Big Brother is watching – and listening – in Oxford

Be careful what you say if you decide to take a taxi or the bus in Oxford – every word will be recorded.

Despite being in clear breach of the guidance issued by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and a gross invasion of privacy, Oxford Council has decided to make it a condition for all licensed black cabs in the city to record both audio and video.

The audio will be available to council officers and the police, and will cover any time the taxi’s engine is running and the 30 minutes after the engine has been switched off.

The Oxford Times has the story, which also uncovered that audio recording is curently in use on Oxford Bus Company buses and Stagecoach’s Oxford Tube bus. As the Oxford and Chiltern bus page notes, Oxford Buses carry a logo on the front stating that CCTV is in operation – not audio recording.

While claiming the scheme is essential to tackle incidentsof assaults on drivers, the Council was unable to provide any figures to the paper and the police said it would take upto a month to compile them. Oxford Bus Company do publish their Conditions of Carriage online – but they do not include any reference to CCTV or audio recording.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has a code of practice for the use of CCTV and it’s clear on the issue of audio recording.

“CCTV must not be used to record conversations between members of the public as this is highly
intrusive and unlikely to be justified. You should choose a system without this facility if possible.
If your system comes equipped with a sound recording facility then you should turn this off or
disable it in some other way.”

However, the Council has taken a rather different approach. Oxford City Council’s Taxi Licensing Pack states that (Page 9) the equipment must be:

4. Capable of providing voice recording
5. The recording must be event activated (e.g. door or ignition) and continue to record 30 minutes after the ignition is switched off.

This is a staggering invasion of privacy, being done with no evidence, no consultation and a total disregard for civil liberties. Big Brother now has big ears, and they are eavesdropping on your conversations with absolutely no justification.

It remains to be seen if the Council even has the legal authority to do this.

Big Brother Watch has complained to the ICO about this policy, and has written to the two Oxford MPs to ask them to join us in opposing the scheme.If you live in Oxford, travel in a recording taxi or use one of these buses, why not check to see if the CCTV notice even tells you that your conversations are being recorded?

Worse still, the Council’s documents do not even mention when recordings should be erased. All they state is that the equipment should be “capable of recording and storing images for a minimum of 28 days.”

Given that one rail route to Witney is through Oxford, we’ll be letting the Prime Minister know that his staff might want to avoid using Oxford cabs.


This has generated a great deal of interest, so Big Brother Watch has been digging. And we’ve found no document that suggests Oxford City Council’s licensing committee has ever approved this. Two reports have been published – one, for the 19 October meeting, outlines the planned changes to licensing conditions. Earlier in the year, a meeting on March 1 heard the initial proposal. Both documents discuss CCTV, and make no mention of audio recording. There is one missing document – the Appendix A discussed on 19 October, which outlines the actual changes planned. That isn’t available on the Council’s website however. We have asked the Officer responsible for a copy.

Update 2:

We’ve now been given the Council’s Appendix. It makes no mention of audio recording, only CCTV and “image retrieval”.

Did Councillors on the committee even discuss this?