Emerging surveillance technology including drones and wearable video cameras – such as that on Google Glass – must only be used by the authorities when necessary and in a proportionate manner, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has warned.
The statement comes as the ICO publishes its CCTV code of practice report, which, among other things, examines the data protection requirements associated with CCTV and other video surveillance technology.
“The UK is one of the leading users of CCTV and other surveillance technologies in the world. The technology on the market today is able to pick out even more people to be recorded in ever greater detail,” said ICO head of strategic liaison Jonathan Bamford, who argued that while the technology can aid the authorities, it also represents a potential invasion of privacy.
“In some cases, that detail can then be compared with other databases, for instance when automatic number plate recognition is used. This brings new opportunities to tackle problems such as crime, but also potential threats to privacy if they are just being used to record innocent members of the public without good reason,” he said.
Bamford stressed that surveillance shouldn’t be used as an automatic response, just because the technology is available. The privacy of citizens needs to be considered.
“Surveillance cameras should not be deployed as a quick fix, but a proportionate response to a real and pressing problem,” he said
“Putting in surveillance cameras or technology like automatic number plate recognition and body-worn video is often seen as the first option, but before deploying it you need to understand the problem and whether that is an effective and proportionate solution,” Bamford continued.
“Failure to do proper privacy impact assessments in advance has been a common theme in our enforcement cases,” he concluded.
Cases in which the ICO has taken action over the use of excessive surveillance include an incident involving Southampton City Council in 2012 in which the council recorded conversations in the city’s taxis before being ordered to stop by the ICO.