Today the Surveillance Camera Commissioner published his 2015/16 Annual Report. It drives home the large number of technologies his office must keep an eye on, such as; CCTV, ANPR, body worn video and drones, as well as demonstrating the growing number of new and emerging surveillance technologies which will require proper debate and scrutiny.
The report contains a number of positive recommendations and serves as a reminder about how much more work needs to be done to make public space surveillance truly effective, transparent and proportionate.
Many of the recommendations found in the report are welcome ones. The call for more transparency around how ANPR functions is vital and the idea of a single Code of Practice relating to all surveillance cameras is something Big Brother Watch has called for repeatedly.
The Commissioner rightly identifies a lack of clarity about how facial recognition technology is being used. This is due, in large part, to the continued failure of the Home Office to publish its biometrics strategy. Without proper leadership from the Government we will be left with no assurances that the technology is being used responsibly.
The report notes that body worn video is still in its “early” stages. Importantly it doesn’t simply restate the perceived benefits of the technology, mentioning the behavioural challenges it will throw up. As Big Brother Watch has previously noted it’s vital that proper evidence is in place to show when and how it can have a positive impact before the cameras are rolled out in too many places.
The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, better known as drones is also discussed. The report concludes that there are still a range of issues that need attention and, given that drones are essentially flying CCTV systems, very real concerns do exist about how they are used. As with body worn video it’s important that the real usefulness of this technology is conclusively established before there is any thought of deploying it more widely.
The fact that these topics are covered in such depth is appreciated, as is the Commissioner’s willingness to engage constructively with Big Brother Watch on a broad range of issues. This report and the Commissioner’s ongoing work can only help strengthen the drive towards making public space surveillance in the UK properly focused on protecting citizens, not snooping on them.