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All eyes on CCTV

New advice for electronic rozzers due this summer

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The Information Commissioner, which watches the CCTV watchers, said its updated advice for CCTV operators has been given a due date in the summer - six months late.

A burgeoning of the high-tech surveillance systems that are being appointed sentinel over our public spaces has overwhelmed the authority charged with keeping them in check.

The CCTV Code of Practice, was originally written in 1999 when all CCTV cameras did was stick your grainy mug on a video cassette.

Deputy information commissioner Jonathan Banford said he had to settle on a summer deadline to give him time to understand the implications of the new technology.

"There's been a movement [of CCTV] away from being reactive to something that's used in a more proactive way by bolting on computer technologies like auto-number plate recognition, facial recognition - technology to look for particular objects or people."

Police, for example, have auto-number plate recognition (ANPR) vans watching over motorways, have done deals with places like Bluewater and Trafford shopping centres to track shoppers in out of their car parks.

ANPR has boomed in the private sector, with corporate vigilantes at petrol stations, car parks and offices tracking individual's movements.

Banford said he was trying to work out how long recordings and data should be kept, and with what protections it was stored.

"Potentially, the basis of a movements database is being set-up...We are starting to intrude into the lives of ordinary people going about their business doing nothing wrong," he warned.

Peter Fry, spokesman for the CCTV User Group, which represents authorities that operate camera networks, campaigns for laws regarding surveillance to be tightened up because the probity of the system rests only on the "professionalism" of its operators, all of whom are as human as any police officer.

He said the new code should also consider "smart CCTV" systems that are backed by "anomaly recognition" software. These spot what petty officials increasingly call "suspicious behaviour" and bring it to the attention of the watchers.

The publication of the draft revised code will be followed by a three month consultation that will also consider misinterpretations of the existing code. Banford said the code had specified a maximum time for keeping recordings, but many operators took it to mean minimum.

It will also consider what influence case law has on the code; and how well balanced the rights of the individual are being balanced against the rights given third parties under the Data Protection Act when someone needs to call on CCTV footage as evidence, say. Authorities are often inclined to refuse to give up CCTV footage, citing the Data Protection Act in their defence. ®

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