UK.gov refuses to give surveillance commish enforcement powers

Tony Porter is 'confused'. Why? He didn't ask for any...

"Surveillance State" by JD Mack: https://flic.kr/p/5gpork

The government has refused to give the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) extra enforcement powers. The problem is that the SCC hadn't asked for any more powers.

In a very brief letter to SCC Tony Porter (PDF), the incumbent commissioner, junior Home Office minister Mike Penning said the government was "not yet convinced that granting your office enforcement and sanction powers would improve compliance."

Penning's remarkably curt letter also informed Porter that he, Penning, would not be available to meet to discuss the SCC's annual review of CCTV surveillance, which was published earlier this year. He also noted that the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which established the commissioner's office, is "due for post-legislative scrutiny in 2017."

As we previously reported, speaking at an event hosted by the National Security Inspectorate, a non-governmental certification body on 10 March last year, Porter acknowledged that "one thing that has been levelled at the code and my role is that it lacks teeth. This is a fair comment I think. I don’t have any powers of sanction or inspection. So if a relevant authority is not paying due regard to the code of practice there is not much I can do."

Despite this criticism, in another letter to the minister Porter noted (PDF) that Penning's response was "confusing" as he "did not request any powers of enforcement or sanction in the Review."

Porter's 20-page Review of the impact and operation of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice (PDF) was published in February. As he noted to Penning, "on page 14 of the document I say:

The absence of any official powers has not impacted on my role. The ability to use soft levers of power, akin to the HMIC and OSC, are not to be understated. That said, we are still in a period of austerity and so maybe another punitive measure is the wrong approach.

Penning's brief letter did not respond to several of the issues raised in Porter's review. The SCC stated that he was "disappointed that apart from recommendation three, there was no comment on any of the other recommendations."

Such a response would be "useful", Porter politely stated, "so I can understand where we can work together to drive forward relevant recommendations and on what timescales. It is equally as important for the public to understand how this important issue is progressing."

Meanwhile, the Home Office's hesitation to address regulatory issues raised by the coalition's Protection of Freedoms Act has resulted in the biometrics commissioner warning the department it was facing heavy legal action, while The Register revealed that the Home Office is separately attempting to settle, out of court, three more lawsuits brought over misuse of biometric data. ®

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