Body cameras worn by council staff and bouncers pose privacy risks, a surveillance watchdog has warned.
Surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter has said that advancing technology, including body cameras and facial recognition systems, are providing “challenges” in relation to protecting the civil liberties of the public.
“As technology advances my concern is around the public’s knowledge of what the technology is and how it is used,” Porter warned in his recently published annual report.
Porter warned that some members of the public often don’t know how they are being monitored by technology. “I believe that the public must be made aware of how advancements in technology can alter the way they are monitored,” he wrote in the report.
An increasing number of councils are equipping frontline staff with body worn video cameras, while police have been extensively trialling similar systems. At the beginning of November Spelthorne Council, in Surrey, confirmed its enforcement officers — including those who deal with litter and dog fouling — would start to wear body cameras, with the footage being kept for a year. The Metropolitan Police, the UK’s largest police force, has committed to the cameras and said that 20,000 will be deployed to its officers in 2016.
Porter, whose organisation does not oversee intelligence or security services, said he was worried by the use of body cameras by officials on non-police business.
“I am concerned by use outside police forces — by door supervisors, parking enforcement officers, security officers and so on. I am not convinced that organisations outside of the police are using BWV with the same rigorous oversight,” Porter said.
CCTV, which is also part of Porter’s remit, is regulated under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and includes a surveillance camera code of practice, which does not extensively cover cameras worn by a person.
Transparency advocates say such cameras must be used in a way that doesn’t invade on a person’s privacy. A study from academics at Cambridge University said that the wearers of body cameras are less likely to use force when their actions are being recorded.
Reports earlier this year raised concerns about how the video footage from body worn cameras is stored and that it could be accessible to hackers.
Sky News reported the cameras being used by some police forces were storing crime videos on private servers where its security cannot be guaranteed. Police forces responded saying they would move the footage to their own systems.
Porter also said the general use of body cameras by police forces has “contributed great evidential value” where it has been used in court cases and many police forces are “well above the curve in terms of their proportionate, transparent and effective use of BWV”.