Fortunately, in the United Kingdom we are far from being like "Airstrip One" but there are serious concerns about the degree of surveillance over citizens which takes place. The State has powers - exercisable through its various agencies - to engage in interception of communications, "bugging" of premises (including vehicles) and covert surveillance in its various forms (directed surveillance, intrusive surveillance and covert human intelligence sources). These activities are subject
to legal regimes - helpfully summarised on Lawobserver. In addition, there has been an explosion in the use of surveillance camera technology much of which is put in place by private enterprise or individuals though there is a significant amount used by public bodies. The use of surveillance cameras has escaped being placed under any form of legal framework. The "Surveillance and Society" journal has published "Development of CCTV Surveillance in Britain" by Clive Norris et al. which looks at the development of camera technology and surveillance.
The Protection of Freedoms Bill (Part 2 Chapter 1) will provide for a Code of Practice containing guidance about surveillance camera systems (Clause 29). The Code must contain guidance about one or more of - (a) the development or use of surveillance camera systems; (b) the use or processing of images or other information obtained by virtue of such systems. The Code may include provision about the considerations as to whether to use these systems. It may also for types of systems or apparatus, technical standards, locations, publication of information, standards applicable to persons using or maintaining systems or apparatus, standards applicable to persons using or processing information obtained, access to or disclosure of such information and procedures for complaints or consultation.
The Secretary of State must consult certain parties before making a Code - e.g. ACPO, the Information Commissioner, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner etc. A definition clause ensures that closed circuit television (CCTV) and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) come within the term "surveillance camera" - see Clause 29(6).
When the Code is first made, a draft has to be laid before Parliament and must be approved affirmatively by each House (Clause 30). However, the Bill is less strong if either the Code is to be amended or replaced since only a negative resolution procedure is provided for. The Code must be published and "relevant authorities" must have regard to it but failure to comply will not attract either criminal or civil liability. However, the code may be "take into account" in any legal proceedings. The term "relevant authorities" is defined in the Bill and includes local authorities, police and crime commissioners, chief police officers and any person to be specified in a statutory instrument. Confining the Code to "relevant authorities" has the result that private camera systems will continue to be largely unregulated.
There is to be a "Surveillance Camera Commissioner" who will "encourage" compliance with the code, review the operation of the code and provide advice about the code including changes to it or breaches of it.
This proposed regime is open to various criticisms and may even lead to increased surveillance. It does not cover systems installed by government departments or those in shopping malls. There are no penalties for breaching the code and the Commissioner is not empowered to investigate breaches. Further complexity is added to surveillance law and practice by the addition of a further Commissioner whereas one might have thought that there was scope to bring all the various Commissioners under the umbrella of a single "privacy Commissioner." Complications are likely to arise vis-a-vis data protection. Overall, the Bill does nothing in this area to add to our freedoms or improve our privacy. An article by Amberhawk is worth reading and see also Panopticon blog "Protection of Freedoms Bill - a new dawn for privacy?"
OUT-LAW.COM has published "New camera commissioner could cause confusion, says privacy watchdog" - (3rd March 2011). This article includes a link to the Information Commissioner's evidence to Parliament.
Local Authorities and powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) -
Addendum 1: The Information Law Blog (Ibrahim Hasan) has some excellent coverage of the use by local authorities of covert surveillance and how the law will be amended by the Bill. See also Local Government Lawyer.
Addendum 2: The Home Office has issued a consultation on the Code of Practice for CCTV and ANPR. It will be open for comment for 12 weeks.
Addendum 3: The Guardian 3rd March 2011 - "You're being watched ...." - reports on the expansion of CCTV in use by private companies etc.
Addendum 4: Law Society Gazette 10th March 2011 - "Local Authority Surveillance" by solicitor Ibrahim Hasan
Addendum 5: Solicitor's Journal 27th March 2011 - "Grim RIPA" by Ibrahim Hasan