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Government lets CCTV watchdog off the leash

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The Government has appointed a regulator to oversee the use of CCTV technology amidst growing concerns about surveillance and the effectiveness of the cameras. A minister said he hoped the appointment would "address public concern" about CCTV use.

Forensic Science Regulator Andrew Rennison will become the interim CCTV Regulator for up to 12  months, when Parliament will appoint a permanent replacement.

"It is … important that we address public concern about how CCTV is used," said minister of state for crime and policing David Hanson in a written ministerial statement. "I am, therefore, pleased to announce the appointment of the Forensic Science Regulator, Andrew Rennison, as the Interim CCTV Regulator with immediate effect."

"The interim CCTV Regulator will advise the Government on matters surrounding the use of CCTV in public places, including the need for a regulatory framework overseen by a permanent CCTV regulator, which enables the police, local authorities and other agencies to help deliver safer neighbourhoods whilst ensuring that personal privacy considerations are appropriately taken into account with supporting safeguards and protections," he said.

Civil liberties groups and privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office have long expressed concern about the increasing use of CCTV.

The House of Lords Constitution Committee warned earlier this year that growing public and private surveillance was damaging the fundamental relationship between Government and the people.

"The UK now has more CCTV cameras and a bigger National DNA Database than any other country. There can be no justification for this gradual but incessant creep towards every detail about us being recorded and pored over by the state," said Lord Goodlad, the Committee's chairman.

"The huge rise in surveillance and data collection by the state and other organisations risks undermining the long standing traditions of privacy and individual freedom which are vital for democracy," said Goodlad. "If the public are to trust that information about them is not being improperly used there should be much more openness about what data is collected, by whom and how it is used."

An internal report by London's Metropolitan Police Service was reported earlier this year as concluding that only one crime was solved for every 1,000 CCTV cameras, and that only eight out of 269 suspected robbers in a month were caught by the cameras.

Hanson said, though, that the Government had its own, unpublished, research which demonstrated public support for CCTV.

"Home Office research published in 2005 showed that over 80% of respondents supported the use of CCTV to deal with crime in their neighbourhood. A similar high level of confidence is reflected in the IPSOS MORI poll conducted last year and which we will be publishing shortly," he said.

The appointment of a regulator is part of the Government's overall plans for the monitoring of CCTV use, its National CCTV Strategy.

"The changes are aimed at ensuring that those involved across the CCTV industry, whether from the public or the private sector, can be actively involved in the development and implementation of national standards on the installation and use of CCTV," said Hanson.

The regulator's role will be based on advice rather than intervention, though. "While the Interim CCTV Regulator will not have responsibility for deciding whether individual cameras are appropriately sited or how they are used, he will be able to help explain to the public how they can complain about intrusive or ineffective CCTV placement or usage," said Hanson.

See: The National CCTV Strategy

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