The Solicitor - The FindLaw UK Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

Surveillance: New code of practice comes into force for public camera operators

A new code of practice regarding the use of CCTV and number plate cameras has come into effect with the aim of protecting members of the public from being 'spied' upon, reports the BBC.

Concerned about the potential for misuse of public cameras, the Home Office has established a new code of practice to guard against such cases and to offer further protection to the individual's right to a private life. This code has been added to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

Along with the Act's institution of the position of a surveillance camera commissioner, the Home Office believes these new measures will go far in further protecting individual rights.

Although only enforceable on those monitoring public CCTV and number plate data collection cameras, Government has encouraged private companies to also take heed of the code.

However, it is this limited enforcement that concerns campaign group, Big Brother Watch. The group's director, Nick Pickles, expressed his concerns over both the limitation of the reach of the code and, furthermore, of the lack of penalty for those who disregard it altogether. The group, which exists to support civil liberties and challenge Government on its imposing surveillance state, has therefore determined the code inadequate. Although they acknowledge that it goes some way to protecting individual rights and liberties, they argue that the code does not go far enough.

The introduction of this new code reminds us of the 2010 case which resulted in West Midlands Police apologising to the public for installing around 200 'spy' cameras in a Muslim-dominated area. The cameras were reportedly set up as part of an anti-terrorism strategy, yet individuals residing in the area felt that their right to privacy had been gravely infringed upon.

In endorsement of the new code of practice, the Minister for Criminal Information, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, said that the code and the commissioner's work "will better harness these technologies and help put an end to the CCTV systems growing without proper oversight", reports the BBC.

It remains to be seen whether the challenges made by Big Brother Watch will have any effect on the new legislation.