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Eyes in the sky: UK.gov's CCTV code to IGNORE MILLIONS of cameras

'Surveillance by consent' but operators WON'T BE sanctioned for cockups

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The coalition government, keen to avoid being seen in the same light as the database and snooping-obsessed previous Labour administration, has issued a draft code of practice that it claims "introduces a philosophy of surveillance by consent".

But the code won't cover the vast majority of cameras* that are operated privately by, for example, shop owners. It also ignores CCTV units used by British Transport as well as video surveillance in hospitals and schools.

The Home Office said:

The code applies to the use of surveillance camera systems that operate in public places in England and Wales, regardless of whether or not there is any live viewing, or recording of images or information or associated data. It does not, however, extend to covert surveillance, and nor does it apply to the domestic use of CCTV.

Police and local authorities will be required to meet the code, which is built on 12 "guiding principles", but if they breach it, no sanctions will be brought against them.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach explained what this meant in a ministerial forward on the Home Office's statutory consultation document:

This legislation provides a regulatory framework which is intended to complement and be coherent with existing legislation, such as the Data Protection Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Technological and professional innovation does not stand still, so we must ensure that any new regulation is appropriate both now and in the future. Our approach to further regulation is, therefore, incremental, with an initial focus on state surveillance and a model of self regulation with no inspection or enforcement.

The peer claimed that the code - which will be overseen but not enforced by a part-time Surveillance Camera Commissioner - would mean that a "robust framework" was in place to ensure that CCTV and ANPR [automatic number place recognition] would not intrude excessively or irresponsibly on British citizens in England and Wales.

Critics of the code have questioned what the new rules might mean, however. Charles Farrier of campaign group No CCTV told The Reg: "The danger of producing a code of practice, particularly one so heavily laden with technical standards, is that it will be viewed as a blueprint of how to use surveillance cameras rather than a thorough evaluation of whether or not to use cameras at all."

The regulation governing how individuals' data is used by the police and local councils in England and Wales - including data captured on CCTV- was enacted through the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. A consultation document seeking the views of the public will run until 21 March, with the code expected to come into play in June this year. ®

* Estimates on how many cameras operate in England and Wales wildly differ depending on which sources you use. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) claimed in 2011 that 1.85 million CCTV cameras were watching the British public. Others have said that not enough evidence exists to reach a definitive figure. The number most commonly quoted is that more than 4 million cameras [PDF] have their eyes fixed on us in Blighty.

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