In this guest post, Professor William Webster outlines the objectives of the civil engagement strand of the National Surveillance Camera Strategy. He is the Director at the Centre for Research into Information, Surveillance and Privacy (CRISP), Professor of Public Policy and Management at the University of Stirling, and is leading the civil engagement strand. This post first appeared on the blog of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Tony Porter.
It’s often said that the UK is the one of the most surveyed countries in the world with some reports estimating over 6 million CCTV cameras in the UK – surveillance cameras are everywhere and have become a familiar sight on our streets and in shopping centres, schools, hospitals and airports (etc.). For me, one of the pressing issues is whether members of the public, when they see a surveillance camera, know or understand why it is there, who is operating it and what it does. In some cases I suspect these questions cannot be answered. The objective of the civil engagement strand is to make information freely available to the public about the operation of surveillance camera systems.
We know surveillance happens and given the current threat level is severe I think most people expect CCTV surveillance to take place. Whilst surveillance is in use organisations must put the individual at the core of what they do to ensure that they are kept safe – but this must happen without infringing their basic human rights contained with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights or compromising their rights under national and European Data Protection rules.
In this work strand we want to engage citizens and civil society about the use of surveillance camera systems and associated technologies (such as automatic facial recognition). We want to raise awareness and encourage discussion about the use of such systems. What’s important is to build public awareness and encourage debate about surveillance and how it is conducted on our behalf. Here, the intention is that the better governance of surveillance cameras can only be realised through enhanced public debate about their role in society.
Technology is advancing quickly and we live in a world where body worn video, dash and head cams are increasingly commonplace. Drones are taking off and automatic facial recognition is no longer the stuff of science fiction. As technology advances so does the potential to intrude into the lives of citizens – and as surveillance cameras are computerised and automated it makes it even harder to know what each cameras is doing. So, public trust and support for surveillance needs to be balanced with our needs and expectations for personal protection and privacy, and it is important that the levels and types of surveillance realised through CCTV is delivered in the public interest.
Our civil engagement plan has now been published and it aims to ensure that:
- Citizens have free access to information relating to the operation of surveillance cameras,
- Citizens have a better understanding of their rights in relation to the operation of surveillance cameras,
- Citizens have an understanding of how surveillance cameras function and are used, and
- Organisations have an understanding of the information relating to the operation of surveillance cameras that they should make available to citizens.
I’d be interested to hear what people think about the plan so please let me know by commenting on the blog of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner.
Over the next 3 years we will be working to make sure that civil engagement happens across the strategy but also encouraging organisations to talk to the people their surveillance cameras monitor, to publish information about the systems they use, why they use them and what happens to the personal data they collect.
Look out for some of the events we will be holding as part of the strategy and make sure you sign up for email alerts for Tony’s blog and also follow him on Twitter.
Professor William Webster