Select Committee on Science and Technology Fifth Report


  4.1     Several witnesses drew our attention to the way surveillance systems in public spaces (sites to which the public has free access) intrude on individual privacy and civil rights. It was not our intention to examine these issues in detail. Any major consideration of proposed changes to the Data Protection Act and the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights is clearly beyond our present remit. Nevertheless, we wish to see public acceptance and approval of the use of surveillance in public places maintained and encouraged. Systems which help to deter crime and assist the authorities to catch and prosecute criminals should be widely valued.

  4.2     The potential for cost reduction offered by digital technology suggests that in future many CCTV surveillance systems will adopt this technique. With the technology comes the ability to alter images in the way that we have discussed in Chapter 3 and the potential ability to introduce data matching. Because we foresee an inevitable increase in the use of digitial surveillance systems we think it right to draw attention to the views of our witnesses who have commented on privacy and civil liberty factors.

City Centre Surveillance

  4.3     Closed circuit television (CCTV) is used extensively in the United Kingdom. There is a significant commitment of public money. Mr Davies (p 31) estimated that between £150 million and £300 million is spent each year on surveillance equipment in the United Kingdom, and the Home Office has assisted in funding around 550 CCTV schemes over three 'challenge' competitions: distributing more than £37 million since 1995 (p 131). Individual schemes, for example the Chelmsford town centre system, which cost £0.5 million to set up and costs £160,000 per annum to run (The Chief Constable of Essex, Mr Burrow Q 407), represent substantial investment for a local authority. Many of our witnesses expect this scale of commitment to rise in the future.

Benefits and Concerns

  4.4     CCTV undeniably provides the public with a sense of security. Shoppers in the city at night and motorists using public car parks feel safer, and experience that most basic of freedoms: the "right to move freely and safely in public places" (Symonds Group p 151). CCTV installations also form part of anti-terrorist measures, for example the system in the City of London, or help in the apprehension of criminals like the Harrods bombers or the murderers of Jamie Bulger. Surveillance plays a key part in crime prevention and Mr Burrow (Q 381) spoke about the reduction in recorded crime at particular locations. Many CCTV systems are used also on a day-to-day basis for controlling petty crime such as graffiti, littering and drunkenness.

  4.5     It is less evident whether crime overall has reduced, or is merely relocated to areas outside the cover of surveillance systems. Notwithstanding the findings of some studies, for example in Airdie (Dr Norris, Q 36), data to support conclusions on the benefits of CCTV surveillance are weak. It was claimed that "less than 0.02 per cent" (Q 36) of the public money spent in this area was spent on evaluation. "Only four, maybe five, properly conducted evaluations by people who are statistically trained and criminologically aware as to the impact of CCTV" (Q 36) have been made. There was too often fundamental confusion between correlation and causation. The Chief Constable of Essex thought that "we ought to try harder [to obtain data on cost effectiveness] rather than just [rely on] the anecdotal evidence that we currently have"(Q 407).

  4.6     We were encouraged by the Home Office response to our questions on the assessment of the effectiveness of CCTV systems in reducing crime and disorder (Mr Childs Q 454). Evaluation, we were told, now features more prominently in recent appraisals of schemes. While this is encouraging, the public need to be assured that good value for money is obtained. Given the large and continuing commitment of public resources we recommend that the Government commission a substantial, rigorous and independent study of the cost and effectiveness of publicly funded surveillance systems.

  4.7     As already noted, concerns were raised about crime displacement and the use of surveillance systems to deal with public order offences. We share the sentiment behind the statement of Mr Leach (Q 37) that "we simply do not believe that there is enough adequate evidence to enable us to be sure about the extent to which crime has been reduced". Such information would be of great benefit in reaching decisions about future investment in surveillance systems. As the collection of the data necessary for the thorough study we are recommending may take some time, we further recommend that an interim report be available within 12 months to provide a broad indication of the scale of any increase in convictions, any reductions in crime and the fear of crime, and separately disorder, that has been achieved by public space surveillance systems.

  4.8     We were told of a MORI poll taken in Colchester (Q 381) where 52 per cent of respondents said that the city centre system made them feel safer. No one felt that it made them feel less safe. More surprising was Dr Norris' account (Q 43) of work done at the Scottish Centre for Criminology. This showed that if the questions about acceptability are rephrased from concerns about the fear of crime to concerns about civil liberties then the level of support for CCTV appears to decline dramatically, in the case reported from around 90 per cent to about 50 per cent. The LGIU quoted (p 58) a 1992 Home Office report (Closed Circuit Television in Public Places, Crime Prevention Unit Paper 35) which concluded: "public acceptance is based on limited, and partly inaccurate knowledge of the functions and capabilities of CCTV systems in public places". Mr Burrow reported (Q 393) that he did not think the public were aware of the capabilities and the degree of control over CCTV. He stated "there is public confidence in the use of CCTV, but I feel that the confidence is fragile, and could be reversed" (Q 380). He believes that when public ignorance of the capabilities and intrusions of CCTV is replaced by awareness, then it "may well be that there will be a falling off of public confidence in the authorities having control of such systems" (Q 420). The research done at the Scottish Centre for Criminology reported by Dr Norris (Q 43) suggests that as the public acquire a greater understanding of the technology, support for CCTV (without which further investment and use could be severely curtailed) may decline. However extreme such views may be, the technology clearly has implications for privacy and civil liberties. Without sensitive handling these worries could override the deterrent and security enhancing benefits which derive from surveillance.

Current Controls over the use of CCTV

Box 5: "A Watching Brief"
Summary of main points of the Local Government Information Unit Code of Practice for CCTV. This is a voluntary code of practice. Where the Code is being used it is often adapted by operators for their own purposes and not all of the following points will apply.
The purpose and objectives of the scheme must be clearly identified, based on local needs. An 'owner' must be identified for the purposes of accountability. If the scheme is a partnership then all partners must agree the code and any changes to it or to the system.
It must be established whether the activities fall within the scope of the Data Protection Act 1984 and, if so, registration with the Registrar is required.
Consultation must be held with the public, tenants and residents, trade and other local groups prior to installation and for regular evaluation of the scheme. (Discussion to include purpose of scheme, coverage, camera locations, effectiveness). Further consultation must be held if significant changes to the system are considered.
System requirements
Installation of equipment must be carried out in consultation with the police.
No sound should be recorded in public spaces. Dummy cameras should not be used. Cameras should not be hidden. Cameras should be restrained so that they do not look into private property.
Control room
Staff must sign a confidentiality agreement and attend training on privacy issues.
Individuals should not be targeted without good reason.
The control room must be secure. Access to monitors should be restricted to authorised staff. Records of access should be kept. Public access must not be allowed except for "lawful, proper and sufficient reasons".
The owner should produce a statement of intent on the use and access to recorded material. Recorded material must not be sold or used for commercial purposes.
Recording equipment should be checked daily and tested monthly. Tapes must be maintained, erased before use, retained for a maximum of 31 days, and be stored and disposed of securely. All tapes should be catalogued. Any tape to be used for evidential purposes must be stored separately and securely.
Access to tapes may be obtained through court order and by lawyers acting for defendants or crime victims. No other access will be allowed unless it is for reasons which fall within the purposes and objective of the scheme.
On-going compliance
The owner of the scheme has ultimate responsibility for management of the system, implementing the code, and protecting public and individual interests. The owner must provide information to the public about the scheme (including the complaints procedure).
The local authority should receive an annual report on the scheme. This and the code of practice must be made available to the public. There should be regular evaluation of the scheme and its effectiveness. There should be a regular audit of the scheme and code of practice compliance by a senior person and by an independent group.
Information should be exchanged with the police (eg on code compliance). If the police are sole operators, then compliance should be monitored by the police authority.

  4.9     There are no statutory, or other, controls on the use of public space CCTV systems. The police are subject to 1984 Home Office Guidelines relating to the use of equipment in surveillance operations generally. These require, for example, that a Chief Superintendent satisfy himself that the use of CCTV equipment "will not involve any unwarrantable intrusion of privacy" (p 130). There are more stringent requirements relating to intrusive surveillance, but guidelines do not provide any enforceable rights to individuals. Any public space surveillance scheme has to have a code of practice in place before it will receive Home Office funding and, although the Home Office endorses the LGIU code (see Box 5), local practice may differ. Moreover, these codes are not enforceable in the courts. They have even less application to private systems. We were told by the Home Office that there is no reliable information on the use of the LGIU code by privately owned and operated schemes (p 130). The Data Protection Act 1984 applies only to systems that are capable of automatically processing personal data by reference to an individual. At present most systems do not appear to meet the criteria of the 1984 Act. So it does not apply. We found no evidence that this lack of regulation is widely appreciated by the public (Mr Burrow Q 393).

Control of public CCTV Images

  4.10     A number of our witnesses expressed concern over the way images from surveillance systems were being released into the public domain (eg pp 14, 58, 116). Some police forces, for example City of London Police and Greater Manchester Police stated that they would not release images to anyone except other police or Customs and Excise authorities making investigations into crime, unless they were required to do so by court order. Our impression is that some other Forces have different policies and extracts from tapes shown on television suggest a more relaxed attitude than that taken by the City of London Police. The reasons why the authorities originally installed their surveillance systems may account for some of the differences in their rules. But there is no broad overall policy even though the LGIU code is quite clear: "recorded material must only be used for the purposes defined in the code ... In particular recorded material will not be sold or used for commercial purposes or the provision of entertainment" (Box 5).

  4.11     During the course of our Enquiry the 'Peck case' came before the Court of Appeal. Mr Peck was captured on a CCTV system in Brentwood attempting to commit suicide. He was in the road with a knife attempting to slash his wrists. The Police were alerted and the tape showed the two police officers arriving. They approached the man with the knife, took hold of him and then, realising that he was suffering from some mental disorder and was attempting to commit suicide, sent him to hospital. Brentwood Council subsequently released the video to the BBC. Mr Peck sought a judicial review in the High Court but the Court found there was no breach of the law. We also learnt that police authorities might be receiving payment from the media for tapes used in a variety of TV programmes. There may be very acceptable and beneficial reasons for getting the media to publish such material, for example to help the police in tracing suspects. But we perceive the potential of serious damage to public confidence if the use of CCTV systems were to become associated primarily with the provision of entertainment, even if of educational value. There are a number of conflicting and sensitive issues here which merit study. We recommend that the Government establish a uniform policy on the control and release of CCTV derived images from publicly owned surveillance systems. Considerations should then be given to the application of a similar policy to privately owned systems.

Surveillance Coverage

  4.12     The widespread use of surveillance equipment, both publicly and privately operated, raises difficult issues of informing the individuals who may be observed by these systems. The present principle as endorsed in the LGIU voluntary code, is that all such systems should have prominently displayed notices to make members of the public aware that their image is being recorded and by whom. While many such notices do exist, large city centres deploy numerous cameras to cover a wide area. For example, around the Palace of Westminster it is possible to view individuals on the far side of Westminster Bridge, at the end of Whitehall and in Victoria Tower Gardens off Millbank from one control-room position, and at the same time, by day or night. It is unrealistic to expect those who install and operate such wide coverage systems to post notices at every street corner for the public to read. At many other locations where the scale of coverage is much less extensive, it will be feasible and sensible to provide notices.

Control of CCTV in spaces to which the public has free access

  4.13     It is frequently difficult for members of the public to determine the exact boundary between public and private property. We do not think the legal boundary matters. Walking from the street into a shopping mall, then into a large store and thence into a small boutique within that store, the shopper may cross many boundaries of legal ownership. Because the public can distinguish no difference between the various CCTV systems any breach of public trust by a private operator will result in a loss of confidence in the public system also.

  4.14     We found a broad spectrum of support for improved control of public space surveillance schemes. Evidence from groups such as Justice and Liberty together with other concerned individuals (pp 1, 10, 31) called for increased control. Organisations such as the Law Society of Scotland stated that "there should be statutory controls on the placement and use of surveillance cameras and the release of information from them" (p 156). The surveillance industry added their own call for stricter control. Symonds Group said that "we believe strict statutory controls should be introduced to govern [CCTV] placement, use, and access to the consequential information". We particularly draw attention to the evidence from the Association of Chief Police Officers (p 116) that "the Police Service would ... encourage legislation regulating surveillance technology and governing the unauthorised disclosure of information so obtained". We believe that public confidence in the future use of CCTV surveillance as it is more widely deployed in the fight against crime and disorder is at issue. We recommend that the Government give urgent consideration to introducing tighter control over any system, either publicly or privately owned, covering sites to which the public has free access. To meet the requirement for continued public support, we would expect this to cover, but not exclusively, the need for some form of licensing; for statutory or other enforceable codes of practice; and for powers to inspect and audit the use and handling of surveillance systems, including the images, their storage and disposal.

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