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CCTV – Big Bother under the Code?

by Brian Sims

The use of CCTV and other surveillance methods has reached unprecedented levels in the UK. Many are naturally concerned that their every move is being monitored. In August 2013 a new Surveillance Camera Code of Practice 2013 was brought in force, under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, to ensure that CCTV use is” open and proportionate”. The 2013 Code is intended to reassure people that the use of CCTV is being strictly monitored to prevent misuse or abuse. It seeks to strike a balance between the need to use CCTV to protect the public and respecting the rights of individuals and their privacy. All organisations must comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 (the DPA) and the existing 2008 CCTV Code of Practice when operating CCTV and similar devices. The 2008 Code applies to all organisations (subject to some very limited exemptions) while the 2013 Code just applies to” relevant authorities”, which are primarily local authorities and the police. The 2013 Code does not replace the 2008 Code and organisations which are subject to the 2013 Code are expected to comply with both. However, there are a number of reasons why private organisations may want to adopt the 2013 Code. In particular, all organisations (including those that are private) who use surveillance technology are encouraged to adopt the principles laid out in the 2013 Code (even where compliance is not a strict legal requirement) on the basis that it is considered to be” best practice”. Also, compliance may help organisations discharge their other legal obligations (for example, compliance with the 2013 Code might help an organisation comply with its DPA obligations). We use the term” CCTV” here but both Codes apply to other devices which view or record images as well. We should also add that the Codes are focused on” overt” surveillance, there are additional obligations when organisations carry out hidden or covert surveillance (but consideration of these points is another matter entirely). When can CCTV be used? The 2008 Code does not restrict what CCTV may be used for so long as the use complies with the DPA and other legislation. In practice this means balancing the need for CCTV against the impact on people’s privacy. The 2013 Code suggests what is arguably a more cautious approach. For example, it requires that CCTV must meet a” pressing need”. To illustrate this, the Code states that” it is unlikely that a trouble-free community pub would present a pressing need’

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