told: If you want public to trust surveillance cam strategy, throw money and manpower at it

Commish laments 'illogical' limitation on code compliance

The UK government must urgently expand Blighty's surveillance camera rules to cover the NHS, and properly resource the nation's strategy on the rapidly increasing use of cams.

Or so said surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter in his annual report (PDF) published this week, which warned that the use of video surveillance technology and integrated networks will only increase.

At the same time, public trust and confidence in the oversight and regulation of the surveillance network will come under increasing pressure, the report stated.

"There are indications of such concern currently arising in the context of facial recognition technologies," he said, pointing to two legal challenges from Liberty and Big Brother Watch.

There is a National Surveillance Camera Strategy for England and Wales – which aims to join up the work of manufacturer, installer and end-user, drive up standards and boost public trust – but it has so far been developed by experts who gave up their time for free.

"Without proper resourcing, this strategy will come under increasing strain," Porter said. He challenged the government to "recognise the value and currency of ensuring that public space video surveillance is properly and effectively managed and to resource this work".

Porter also reiterated his call for the scope of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice to be extended. At the moment it applies to "relevant authorities" as set out in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoFA), which includes local governments, but not organisations like Transport for London or the healthcare sector.

"That limitation is increasingly looking illogical and is rejected by the industry and operators themselves," he said. "The argument for expansion is now pressing."

In making his point, he highlighted the "absolute nonsense" that the smallest parish councils have to heed the code, but operators of vast systems like airports or TfL don't.


"It is ironic that the government will introduce video surveillance systems into abattoirs for the betterment of animal welfare but has rejected my repeated calls for the NHS to be made a relevant authority within the PoFA," he said.

"Millions of patients, arguably at their most vulnerable, are exposed to ever increasing surveillance technology from drones and [body-worn video] to [automated facial recognition]."

He also dismissed the government's argument that the new Data Protection Act (DPA), established in May 2018, provides sufficient regulation of surveillance in the NHS, saying it was "not persuasive".

"Rather than support the Home Secretary's SC (surveillance camera) Code I am told there is no requirement to strengthen the SC Code because the Information Commissioner has the powers to provide that reassurance," he said. "I respectfully advise that this is not the case."

He said he believes the DPA 2018 only "partially provides a lawful basis for surveillance", in that they only offer a framework for the management of data after surveillance has been conducted; and only strengthen individuals' rights over the data once it has been acquired.

Another of Porter's long-held concerns is over the extensive use of Automated Number Plate Recognition, and in this year's report he pointed out that at the time of writing, "funding for a police national co‑ordination role in respect of ANPR has ceased".

He recommended a dedicated, independent policy function in the National ANPR Service to ensure implications of decisions on data management, transaction logging and audit functionality are adequately considered.


Elsewhere in the report, Porter offered a rundown of the results of a horizon-scanning exercise, which included concerns about the implications of augmented reality technology and the potential use of biometrics through gait analysis or iris recognition.

He added that the Home Office's long-awaited biometrics strategy – which was criticised for being too lightweight at the time – didn't offer a road map providing clarity and direction, but did "provide a foundation" for that work.

Further issues included an increasing strain on resources at the "back end" of the system in the police and criminal justice system. "Will they have the capacity and capability to deal with this flood of new information? What is the purpose in collecting it if it cannot be used effectively?"

Porter also called for more training for people operating the systems and better information at the "front end" of the camera system so the public know more about its deployment, and mooted a surveillance ethics committee. ®

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