UK government issues code of practice for surveillance systems

Earlier this month, the British government issued a new code of practice for video surveillance and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) solutions that establishes guidelines and best practices for how authorities in England and Wales can use these systems. Although the code specifically pertains to law enforcement, the UK’s Home Office is also encouraging other surveillance system operators to adopt the guidelines set forth in the code voluntarily.

The government said that goal of this new code is to ensure that police have the tools they need at their disposal to reduce crime while also assuaging privacy concerns among citizens that cameras are being used to spy on them.   

"This government believes both CCTV and ANPR are both vital tools but it is crucial they are focused on aiding the fight against crime and protecting the public," said Minister for Criminal Information Lord Taylor of Holbeach. "I am pleased we now have in place a code that, together with the work of the independent surveillance camera commissioner, will better harness these technologies and help put an end to CCTV systems growing without proper oversight."

According to the "Surveillance Camera Code of Practice," CCTV operators need to adhere to the following 12 guiding principles:

1. Use of a surveillance camera system must always be for a specified purpose which is in pursuit of a legitimate aim and necessary to meet an identified pressing need.

2. The use of a surveillance camera system must take into account its effect on individuals and their privacy, with regular reviews to ensure its use remains justified.

3. There must be as much transparency in the use of a surveillance camera system as possible, including a published contact point for access to information and complaints.

4. There must be clear responsibility and accountability for all surveillance camera system activities including images and information collected, held and used.

5. Clear rules, policies and procedures must be in place before a surveillance camera system is used, and these must be communicated to all who need to comply with them.

6. No more images and information should be stored than that which is strictly required for the stated purpose of a surveillance camera system, and such images and information should be deleted once their purposes have been discharged.

7. Access to retained images and information should be restricted and there must be clearly defined rules on who can gain access and for what purpose such access is granted; the disclosure of images and information should only take place when it is necessary for such a purpose or for law enforcement purposes.

8. Surveillance camera system operators should consider any approved operational, technical and competency standards relevant to a system and its purpose and work to meet and maintain those standards.

9. Surveillance camera system images and information should be subject to appropriate security measures to safeguard against unauthorized access and use.

10. There should be effective review and audit mechanisms to ensure legal requirements, policies and standards are complied with in practice, and regular reports should be published.

11. When the use of a surveillance camera system is in pursuit of a legitimate aim, and there is a pressing need for its use, it should then be used in the most effective way to support public safety and law enforcement with the aim of processing images and information of evidential value.

12. Any information used to support a surveillance camera system which compares against a reference database for matching purposes should be accurate and kept up to date.  

"This is an important first step, the journey starts now," said Surveillance Camera Commissioner Andrew Rennison. "I will be looking for action by the relevant authorities and providing tools that help them and others who are encouraged to adopt the code to be transparent, open and effective in their use of surveillance cameras."

Despite the new code, IHS believes that it will have a limited impact on the growth of the UK market for video surveillance equipment.

"Surveillance systems in public areas are estimated to account for only a small percentage of the UK’s cameras, with the vast majority installed on private property," said Josh Woodhouse, surveillance market analyst for IHS. "Furthermore, the code of practice should entail little worry even for those equipment suppliers and installers working in public places. This is because they are already used to complying with far more stringent surveillance legislation in other countries."

Despite enduring a tough time in the current economic climate, IHS forecasts that the UK market for video surveillance equipment will grow between 2013 and 2017. Some of this growth will be for new installations, but much of it will come from new systems replacing of existing ones that are aging.

"The new systems will offer improved image quality through such features as high-definition compliance, wide dynamic range and day/night functionality," Woodhouse added. "And in spite of the large number of systems already installed in the U.K., vendors should not ignore the opportunity this regional market continues to present."