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Freedoms Bill good for CCTV, not for privacy

Code of practice in surveillance leaves little to protect privacy

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Also missed from all the press coverage is the role of Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera systems. ANPR is important because of the police have a policy of “denying criminals the use of the roads” (PDF/141-page/1.5MB). All vehicles passing an ANPR system (eg on a motorway) are regularly checked in real time with data from the Police National Computer vehicle information. This provides valuable intelligence that the Home Office is keen to legitimise.

That is why a great deal of the Statutory Code will be devoted to making ensure that various CCTV/ANPR systems follow communication standards and can work efficiently and effectively (ie ensure the surveillance functionality is fit for purpose). This is also why much of the code is reserved for commentary on: “technical standards”, “locations” and “types of system”. Readers who are interested in the background to the code should look at the Home Office’s National CCTV Strategy (PDF/56-page/374kb) and the NPIA’s document about ANPR (PDF/141-page/1.5MB).

Haven't we seen you before?

As soon as one gets good facial recognition (as is likely some day), one can presume that this will be linked to the digital photographs of drivers or on passports. The code will thus apply to the policy of “denying criminals the use of the pavements” perhaps. These changes may not be subject to detailed Parliamentary scrutiny – all a future home secretary could do is issue a new Code of Practice.

Finally, as well as fragmenting the regulatory regime, the code only applies in England and Wales – so what happens in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Now I am not saying that the police or Local Authorities should not have better CCTV or the police should not have more effective ANPR or better intelligence. What I am saying is that where there is enhanced surveillance there should also be enhanced protection. You can’t have one without the other.

I also object to the deputy prime minister saying that this bill curtails surveillance and excessive state interference, when this part of the bill does no such thing. There was the kind of privacy “doublespeak” that used to be the preserve of Labour home secretaries. Not any longer...

At its most fundamental, the Protection of Freedoms Bill is a Home Office bill, like the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act that came before it (which probably explains the generous exemptions that cover Home Office responsibilities in these Acts).

So when you read this bill, read it carefully. Remember where it comes from, and have that garlic and crucifix to hand.

Read further

“CCTV – and data protection – 2007” focuses on ACPO CCTV strategy and OIC Code of Practice.

The Protection of Freedoms Bill

This story originally appeared at HAWKTALK, the blog of Amberhawk Training Ltd.

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