Britain’s Surveillance State – Smile You are on Body Worn Camera
Big Brother Watch (BBW) has a long history of exposing the over-zealous use of surveillance powers by local authorities.
Over the past 8 years they have found that local authorities have used counter terrorism powers to spy on dog owners, suspected fly tippers and even members of staff they employ to spot crime. BBW have revealed the thousands of officials able to enter our homes; often without a warrant, and have lain bare the financial burden of CCTV on council coffers.
Now in ‘Smile you are on Body Worn Camera, Part 1’ – Local Authorities, BBW reveals for the first time:
- That 54% of all local authorities across the UK are equipping members of staff or contractors with body worn cameras at a cost of £1,791,960.81.
- That 66% of local authorities are failing to completing Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) before deploying the technology and
- That 21% of councils are holding non-evidential footage for longer than 31 days; the time limit adhered to by police forces.
Body worn cameras are the new tool in the surveillance arsenal. They can be deployed for multiple purposes often with little to no evidence that they are the right tool to solve the particular problem.
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Big Brother Watch is concerned that the rush to use body worn cameras by local authorities is not being scrutinised closely enough. When we consider that many councils have a poor track record of using heavy handed surveillance tactics and are often lackadaisical with their approach to protecting personal data, scrutiny of new capabilities should be a number one priority.
We understand that deploying body worn cameras in order to protect staff from verbal or physical abuse may have validity; no member of staff should feel unsafe at work. But the decision by some councils to equip staff with the cameras in order to film people dropping litter, walking dogs, parking or to monitor people’s recycling, in order to use the “evidence” to issue a fine, we would argue is a disproportionate use of an intrusive surveillance capability and a potential breach of the privacy of law abiding citizens.
The privacy concerns which accompany the use of body worn cameras are two-fold. Firstly, the initial filming of people in a public space and secondly the retention of footage showing direct engagement between official and citizen, which includes a record of the citizens’ face, voice, mannerisms and behaviours.
Local authorities must ensure the technology is only deployed when proven to be absolutely necessary and completely proportionate to the problem they are trying to solve. Officials must then ensure the retention of any data adheres to the strongest safeguards in light of the potential sensitivity of the data being handled.
If they fail to properly engage on the issue of privacy, if citizens feel as though they are being filmed for no good reason by unnecessarily intrusive officials or if stories are published which reveal poor data security, loss, breach or misuse of the footage then councils will face inevitable criticism and a public backlash.
The actual findings from 98% of responses from local authorities were:
- 227 (54%) local authorities are using, trialing or have used body worn cameras in at least one department.
- 3760 cameras have been purchased.
- £ 1,791,960.81 has been spent on the cameras.
- 150 (66%) local authorities either failed to complete or are unsure if they completed a Privacy Impact Assessment before either trialing or implementing body worn cameras.
- 48 (21%) local authorities hold footage for longer than 31 days. 31 days is the recommended retention time adhered to by the police.
- 28 (12%) local authorities employ contractors who use body worn cameras in at least one department.
- 62 (27%) local authorities equip staff with body worn cameras for multiple roles within departments.
- 32 (14%) local authorities use more than one supplier of body worn cameras.