28 May 2017
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Public Support for CCTV in the UK

Nowhere else in the world is CCTV used so widely for Public Area Surveillance than in the UK.

In the UK it has achieved a unique level of support from the public and the media being seen to be more in the role of a 'Benevolent Father' helping to reduce crime and catch offenders rather than any perception of 'Big Brother', a term most responsible CCTV managers and operators would shy away from being associated with.

It has achieved this public acceptance largely from well publicised successes in the media from many high profile cases where offenders have been apprehended solely as a result of the public area CCTV systems, the professional and responsible approach of most CCTV managers and operators, the operation of systems to nationally recognised Model Codes of Practice and Procedures Manuals, and the legislative framework that now exists around the use of CCTV systems in the UK with the

  • Data Protection Act 1998
  • Human Rights Act 1998
  • Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000
  • Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
  • The Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act 1996

and we would like to think all the work done by the CCTV User Group since 1996 in trying to work with other bodies in developing recognised Standards for the Industry.

We also recognise the considerable amount of support and advice that has also been provided by the

  • Home Office
  • Police Scientific Development Branch
  • Association of Chief Police Officers
  • Local Government Information Unit
  • Local Government Association
  • and regional CCTV User Groups around the UK

all of which has added to this image of CCTV as a positive influence on the life of residents and visitors to the towns and cities of the UK

HOWEVER to ensure this public support is retained we would wish to see changes.

Over the last decade, due principally to the significant financial support given by all Governments, the number of Town and City CCTV systems carrying out public area surveillance in the UK has grown from 3 in 1991 to probably between 3-350 town and city centre systems.

This figure is conjecture for despite many guesses heard at conferences, no one knows, as there is no known database of how many such systems there are or exactly who operates them. To identify how many public surveillance systems there are also requires:

  • A definition of what is a system? In the context of the figures above I am referring to the number of CCTV control rooms whether they cover one town centre or many. The number of towns /cities covered by CCTV will be well in excess of the above as many CCTV control rooms monitor several town centres.
  • A definition of what is a public area CCTV system? In the above estimate I am referring to Police / Local Authority managed systems, but it may also pertinent to consider that there may well be some 800 CCTV systems operated by shopping malls, and an unknown number operated by health trusts, universities, housing associations and residential areas, transport companies (rail, bus, air, underground, private car parks and ports), all of which could be considered to be undertaking “public surveillance” as the public have a generally unrestrained access to many of the areas concerned.

There is no doubt that such CCTV systems have been extremely effective in combating crime and terrorism in public areas, and increasing the public’s feeling of safety and security in going about their daily lives in towns and cities. Many high profile cases have demonstrated how such public area systems have enabled the perpetrators of crimes to be identified and convicted who might otherwise have evaded justice (E.g. Jamie Bulger, London Nail Bomber, Ealing Bomber to highlight just a few) and we are confident the current evaluations being carried out by the Scarman Centre for Public Order for the Home Office will support this view.

The CCTV User Group however recognises that the power of CCTV is such, that used improperly it has an equal potential for the invasion of a persons’ right to privacy and potentially could endanger their Civil Liberties, as not until relatively recently has there been any legislative control over the operation of the systems, although most of the town and city centre systems were required by the Government funding initiatives to operate to Codes of Practice.

The CCTV User Group, a totally independent membership organisation whose members include the vast majority of Local Authorities and Police Forces operating town and city centre systems, as well as a significant representation of other “Users” of CCTV equipment, was formed in 1996, to attempt to address this anomaly with the prime objectives of “Setting Standards for the Industry”, identifying “Best Practice” and developing Model Codes of Practice and other Model Documents to assist managers and operators in the effective and responsible use of their systems. It has become nationally and internationally recognised as the prime source of information with regard to the operation of CCTV systems in the UK and is actively assisting with a United States University Research Project for their Federal Government, examining the development and effectiveness of public area CCTV systems in the UK

The CCTV User Group welcomed the introduction of

  • The Data Protection Act 1998 - but were concerned that the Information Commissioner has inadequate investigative staff to ensure compliance with the Act. Only if complaints are made about a specific system will any investigation be carried out. We are also concerned that whilst organisations are required to ‘notify’ her of any CCTV system, this can be within the ‘bulk notification’ of all that organisations Data Protection obligations and there is therefore no separate record which can identify every CCTV system and who is responsible for operating it.
  • The Human Rights Act – Comments similar to the Data Protection Act, but with additional concerns that it only applies to “Public or Quasi-Public Authorities. A privately owned out of town shopping centre could therefore be considered exempt, but has the potential for the substantial infringement of Human Rights.
  • The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act – We welcome the fact that unlike the Information Commissioner, the Surveillance Commissioner has been given a limited number of staff (but query whether more resources would be more effective) to carry out random inspections to determine the degree of compliance.

These Acts provided the long awaited, first formal legislation governing the operation of CCTV, the requirements of which complement our own previous informal guidelines. However we are concerned (see above) that they did not go far enough, and that whilst we are confident that most of our member’s town and city centre systems are generally, albeit in some cases very slowly, complying with the requirements, we are extremely concerned that either through ignorance, poor management or in some cases lack of finance other CCTV system managers in many other sectors do not appear to be. (Note the recent baby abduction case from a hospital in the West Midlands where the CCTV system was apparently not working effectively).

We also welcomed the “Private Security Industry Act” but had hoped that it would be broader in scope, and also include the requirement for the licensing, registration and vetting of ‘in house’ CCTV personnel, as well as those provided by private security companies. It seems a major anomaly that a “private” security guard patrolling a “private” factory has to be vetted and licensed, but ‘in-house staff’ operating a public area CCTV system, with all the potential for infringing Civil Liberties does not have to be licensed and indeed many authorities are finding it difficult to obtain any satisfactory vetting, with no category for such vetting coming under the Criminal Records Bureau criteria.

In respect of the Police Reform Bill, we support the principal of “Town Wardens” or secondary security forces for town/ city centres which should enable the scarce resources of the Police to concentrate on their professional tasks. We are however already concerned about the limited “powers of arrest” available to store detectives, whereby they can only detain suspects if they personally have witnessed an event, whilst Police can arrest when they have reasonable grounds to believe an event has occurred. In the context of the increasing use of CCTV and communication between CCTV control rooms and store detectives / Town Wardens, frequently it is the CCTV operator who has witnessed an event and notified the detective / town warden to take action. We are legally advised that if a store detective detains an individual based solely on information provided by a third party, not having witnessed the event himself, it is in fact an illegal detention. Our concern is that under the proposed arrangements Town and Neighbourhood Wardens will find themselves in a similar situation which puts them and the authority at risk of claims of illegal detention and claims for compensation.

Our final concern is with the ongoing funding of these town and city centre CCTV systems. We appreciate the significant amounts of capital money the government has invested in the provision of the systems, but are concerned that many public authorities are finding the ongoing running costs which in many cases amount to around £500,000 per annum a strain on already limited budgets. Our principal concern is that once the reduction in crime is achieved, given other demands on their finances, some authorities are already beginning to consider that they no longer need to man or operate the systems to the same degree as at present, diverting those funds to other priorities. The considerable capital investment is not then being used to maximum effect.

We appreciate that the government would be unwilling to directly fund these ongoing costs for all Local Authorities but believe that either the ‘Crime and Disorder’ element of the Rate Support Grant calculation should be amended to reflect these responsibilities and costs, or that the “Goods and Services Act” which controls the ability of some Local Authorities to carry out work for the private sector should be broadened to enable Local Authorities to take maximum advantage of a tremendous asset of a 24/7/365 professionally manned emergency control room, to also provide monitoring services for private sector companies, introducing income to offset their operating costs.

Each member of the CCTV User Group is committed to ensuring the effective management of his public area CCTV system, each one being able to provide testament to how their system has enhanced the “quality of life” for those in their community in the protection from, and detection of, criminal or terrorist incidents.

However each would also argue strongly that the exceptional degree of public support that currently exists for such public area CCTV systems, will only be retained whilst the public have confidence that their Civil Liberties and Human Rights can not be abused, and there are no equally high profile cases where an individuals rights have been found to be abused in such a manner.

We, as the CCTV User Group, believe that unless the following measures are introduced there is a significant risk that such an event will occur, bringing the use of CCTV as a public area security tool into disrepute and destroying all the valuable work it has achieved.

We are respectfully lobbying the Government to consider:-

  • Extension of the powers and resources of the Information Commissioner to enable her staff to perform random inspections of CCTV systems to ensure compliance with Data Protection and Human Rights requirements.
  • The development of a national, publicly available database of every public area CCTV system and who is responsible for the operation of it. (Note. In the absence of any formal database the CCTV User Group is shortly to send out questionnaires, at their own expense, to develop their own).
  • Further development of the Security Industry Act to require the licensing and registration of ‘in-house’ public area CCTV Operators as a matter of priority.
  • Amendment of the Police Reform Bill to enhance the powers of arrest of Town Wardens and store detectives when acting on information provided by a credible witness ( CCTV Operator).
  • Amendment of the Criminal Records Bureau criteria to facilitate the full vetting of all CCTV personnel as a matter of priority.
  • Amendment to the Local Authority Goods and Services Act to facilitate the ability of Local Authority CCTV Control Rooms to carry out monitoring functions on behalf of the private sector to raise income to offset against operating costs.
  • Amendment of the rate support grant calculation to recognise the cost to authorities of managing and operating a public area CCTV system.

We sincerely believe that if the above amendments can be made, each will substantially increase the effectiveness of CCTV as an essential tool against town and city centre crime and terrorism. However failing to address each of these issues could result in CCTV loosing the current exceptional level of public and media support it enjoys; CCTV falling into disrepute; and severely reductions in the effectiveness and value received from the earlier investment.

• (51) By , 18 Jun 2008, 08:05

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