Since August 2009 it has been the policy of Southampton City Council to require all licensed taxis and private hire vehicles to be fitted with a CCTV system, which system incorporates an audio recording function, and for that CCTV system to be in permanent operation.  

The effect of this policy is that not only are images from inside such vehicles recorded but also all conversations that take place in such vehicles, whether they are between the driver and a passenger, between passengers themselves or between a passenger and another person on the other end of a mobile phone.

The UK Information Commissioner considered Southampton City Council’s policy in light of the Data Protection Act 1998, which requires personal data to processed in accordance with Eight Data Protection Principles.  On July 2012, the UK Information Commissioner issued an enforcement notice against the Council advising that it considered that the processing of personal data arising as a direct result of the operation of these CCTV systems, with audio recording capabilities, to be unfair and unlawful and therefore in breach of the First Data Protection Principle.

The enforcement notice requires Southampton City Council to change its policy and ensure that as from 1 November 2012 the practice of recording such personal data ceases and that all personal data contained in any stored audio recordings be erased.

In a press release accompanying the enforcement notice, the UK Information Commissioner stated that Southampton City Council’s policy had “gone too far”.  Whilst there was an acknowledgement of the Council’s desire to ensure the safety of both passengers and drivers, the UK Information Commissioner advised that the Council’s actions had to be proportionate and be balanced against the both the passengers’ and drivers’ expectation of privacy.

The UK Information Commissioner stated that “[w]hile CCTV can be used in taxis, local authorities must be sensible about the extent to which they mandate its use, particularly when audio recording is involved” and that local authorities “must properly consider all the legal obligations on them before requiring the installation of CCTV or similar equipment”.

Southampton City Council has now lodged an appeal against the enforcement notice, arguing that its policy helps to protect the safety of both passengers and drivers.

Jacquie Rayment, Southampton City Council's deputy leader, said "[t]he very fact that the cameras capture everything is a valuable deterrent against attacks, both verbal and physical."  She further stated that "[n]o one sees these videos unless there is an incident that needs investigating and in those cases the footage and audio becomes crucial independent evidence.”

The Council’s appeal is expected to be heard in spring 2013 and until such time Southampton City Council has advised that all of its licensed taxis and private hire vehicles will continue to be required to use CCTV systems in accordance with its existing policy.