Thursday, 31 May 2007

Stars Of Illegal CCTV

It's hardly news that we're under fairly constant scrutiny by video cameras. Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) has been around for a long time in the UK, and webcams mean that everyone can operate their own home video security systems without spending a packet. It seems that the UK has more CCTV cameras than in any other European country. The interesting news is that most of these CCTV cameras are illegal.

According to a report in The Times, "A new national advisory body for the industry, CameraWatch, which has the backing of the police and the Information Commissioner’s Office, claimed yesterday that the vast majority of CCTV is used incorrectly and could potentially be inadmissable in court."

Note that CameraWatch's concern is about how useful the footage will be in a court, rather than anything to do with our rights not to be watched 24/7.

According to The Times, "The proliferation of CCTV by councils, housing associations, businesses, private individuals and police mobile units means that there is estimated to be one camera for every fourteen people. The Home Office has committed £63 million to installing systems." And as many as 90 per cent of these are illegal.

Although the public seems to be relatively unbothered by CCTV, not everyone is happy about its prevalence. Deputy chief constable Ian Readhead has spoken out about his concerns that Britain could become an Orwellian society. It would be easy to become paranoid about Big Brother, especially when the police start getting nervous, but this gives more credit than is due to 'them'. 'They', by the way, are the shadowy people/organisations behind any scary conspiracy theory.

We are a long way off having an intelligent, integrated eye in the sky capable of analysing our every move. Things just aren't as well organised behind the scenes as we'd like/hate to think.

The fact that terrorist suspects are able to carry bombs around, escape surveillance and fly in and out of the UK means that, unless the security services are playing a particularly long game, there are gaps. And these gaps mean that no-one is going to scrutinise you walking down Oxford Street eating a sandwich. If they do, they won't communicate the fact to the other camera operators who pick you up as you reach Tottenham Court Road sucking on a Cola.

Is Your Webcam Legal?

Do you operate an illegal CCTV system? Here are three easy questions that can give you a good idea.

  • Do you ever operate the cameras remotely in order to zoom in/out or point in different directions to pick up what particular people are doing?
  • Do you ever use the images to try to observe someone’s behaviour for your own business purposes such as monitoring staff members?
  • Do you ever give the recorded images to anyone other than a law enforcement body such as the police?

If you answer 'yes' to any of these then, according to the Information Commissioner's Office, then you are subject to the Data Protection Act (DPA). If you answer 'no' to all of them then you're OK. The DPA has specific regulations and also a set of guidelines that you should follow.