It was in 2000 that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) published its first Code of Practice aimed at ensuring that the use of Closed Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV) was compliant with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). The DPA had extended what was covered by data protection legislation and it now meant that the capture of images of people via a CCTV camera was, in many circumstances, covered by the DPA.

The Code of Practice was updated in 2008. The aim of the Code is to set out good practice and, as stated in the Code, “following the recommendations in this code will:

  • help ensure that those capturing images of individuals comply with the DPA;
  • mean that the images that are captured are usable [as evidence]; and
  • reassure those whose images are being captured.”

Notwithstanding this guidance there has been concern in certain political parties (notably the Liberal Democrats) about the proliferation of CCTV and similar types of cameras. This concern was reflected in the Coalition Agreement where it is stated  “we will further regulate CCTV”.

The government has followed up on this commitment. As mentioned in a previous bulletin, the Protection of Freedoms Bill was published earlier this year.  In the case of CCTV (and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)) cameras, the Bill proposes the introduction of a new Code of Practice and a new Commissioner – the Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

Following this a consultation was launched on the new Code of Practice. The aim of the consultation was to get input into the areas that the Code of Practice should cover. The consultation set out a number of broad questions on which it sought answers. On the basis of this feedback the government will develop the draft Code in consultation with interested parties.

As matters currently stand the intention is for the Code of Practice (and the responsibility of the Commissioner) to only cover CCTV used by local authorities and the police. Whilst there is no doubt that the CCTV and ANPR cameras used by such bodies have a huge impact on our lives the vast majority of CCTV cameras will remain unregulated by this Code/Commissioner as they are used by private bodies.

In addition the new Code will not be mandatory. Instead the police and local authorities will have a statutory duty to take account of the Code in their use of CCTV and ANPR cameras, however, failure to do so will not result in any criminal or civil proceedings.

Moreover the proposals set out in the Protection of Freedoms Bill will only cover England and Wales. Separately last winter the Scottish Government consulted on a Draft National Public Space CCTV Strategy for Scotland, however, there has been no final version of this issued to date.

For most users of CCTV cameras the Code will provide interesting reading and indeed the government would like them to aim to comply with the Code, albeit it would be done voluntarily. For such users though the primary focus of regulation will remain the DPA. Future bulletins will provide information on how these proposals develop.