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Home Office to grab for more CCTV power

Plods not happy with law, ICO, or surveillance quality

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The police and Home Office are to press for regulatory powers that will insist that every one of the 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain is upgraded so it can be deputised to gather police evidence and provide a vehicle for emerging technologies that will automatically identify people and detect if they are doing anything suspicious.

The CCTV strategy for crime reduction, which is expected to be published in December after a joint review by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers, is also expected to be critical of the way the law governing the use of CCTV has been managed by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

Graeme Gerrard, joint-director of the review and deputy chief constable at Cheshire Constabulary, said: "We say there's a need for proper regulation of CCTV to protect civil rights and to see we are not wasting everyone's time and money."

His recommendations will include powers of inspection to determine if CCTV systems are good enough for their recordings to be commandeered for use as police evidence. Public and private operators would be obliged to upgrade their systems if the police thought they were not good enough.

"CCTV, in terms of assisting the police, has been very important. It's now one of the first things we check in most forms of criminality," Gerrard said, but added: "From a police perspective we have been concerned for some time with the quality of the CCTV [images] presented to us."

"The reason is that CCTV systems are not regulated and inspected. They should be fit for purpose to comply with the Data Protection Act. But that's not being regulated at the moment, which is wasting police time and public money.

"The Information Commissioner has responsibility but doesn't do it. We are certainly recommending someone does it."

The ICO has repeatedly asked the Department of Constitutional Affairs (DCA) for powers of inspection so it can check that people's CCTV systems are being used properly - not just so that they are fit for the purpose of crime detection, but also that they are not intruding on people's privacy. But the DCA had refused, The Register has learned.

Even if the ICO was given the power to inspect people's CCTV installations, it could not afford to do the work. Neither is the government willing to foot the bill of upgrading the many public CCTV networks using old technology.

Moreover, public funding would not fund private CCTV operators, which Gerrard said are more often found by the police to be inadequate when they turn to them for evidence.

So the CCTV review will suggest some sort of self-funding regime. This could mean that CCTV operators might have to pay a higher registration fee than the yearly £35 they pay to the ICO. Fines could also be charged to those who fail their inspections.

The review is also expected to call for a public debate on CCTV, which should please the ICO after it said earlier this month that British society was being fundamentally changed by the rapid growth of surveillance and that we should pause for thought before it's too late.

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