Illegal CCTV Cameras

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Up to 90 per cent of surveillance cameras may be breaching the Information Commissioner’s code of practice laid down to stop cameras being used inappropriately. Even more seriously, a large proportion of the UK’s 14.2 million cameras breach the Data Protection Act and so are illegal.

It has been predicted that the illegality of many cameras will lead to future clashes in court and possible acquittals of suspects.

Research has shown that up to 90 per cent of CCTV installations fail to comply with the Information Commissioner’s code of practice, and that many installations are operated illegally. This has profound implications for the reputation of the CCTV and camera surveillance industry and all concerned with it.

CameraWatch, a non-profit making independent body, which commissioned the survey says that it is not against CCTV as a crime-fighting tool; surveillance pictures are as useful to police as DNA forensic evidence. Their concern lies with the increasing amount of CCTV camera installations that do not comply with the Data Protection Act.

Under the code of practice and according to the Data Protection Act, CCTV cameras must be visible with clear signs. In addition, camera operators have an obligation to stop images of individuals being seen by third parties. Operators most commonly breach these rules by not keeping recorded tapes secure, meaning they could potentially be stolen.

The rise of digital cameras opens up further problems because the images can easily be shared as digital files rather than remaining on a closed loop.

Defence counsels in court could theoretically question the legality of CCTV pictures in order to have the evidence dismissed or the case thrown out. Although the issue has not yet been tested in court, one such case could set a precedent throwing into doubt the whole surveillance network.

Responding to the new research, the Information Commissioner’s Office has denied that CCTV rules are being broken on a large scale.

Ken Macdonald, Assistant Information Commissioner for Scotland, said: "We welcome the initiative by CameraWatch to promote compliance with the Data Protection Act. We are not aware of any evidence that supports the suggestion that 90 per cent of CCTV cameras are not complying with the ICO Code of Practice. We don’t believe there is any such evidence. Where we receive complaints that CCTV is being used in breach of the Data Protection Act we will investigate. We have a range of enforcement powers at our disposal."

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