from the instead,-why-not-try-doing-what-you-already-tried-and-doesn't-work? dept
As we've noted before, the UK is infamous for the number of surveillance cameras that dot the land. They've become so much a part of British life that there is an official Surveillance Camera Commissioner, whose job is to encourage compliance with an official surveillance camera code of practice. The basic principle of the code is the following:
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.
However, the Commissioner's powers are very circumscribed:
The commissioner has no enforcement or inspection powers and works with relevant authorities to make them aware of their duty to have regard to the code. The code is not applicable to domestic use in private households. The commissioner also must consider how best to encourage voluntary adoption of the code by other operators of surveillance camera systems.
As that makes clear, there are no enforcement powers to compel recalcitrant authorities to bring their surveillance into line. Still, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner does what he can, for example by pointing out situations that he regards as problematic. Here's one he spotted: the increasing use of body-worn surveillance cameras (pdf) in the UK's National Health Service (NHS) hospitals.
The introduction of body-worn video cameras at several hospitals has increased my concerns. Body-worn video cameras are a particularly intrusive device as they capture audio and video simultaneously without the option of switching either off whilst recording.
As the Commissioner points out, hospitals are unusually sensitive environments for surveillance cameras:
The NHS trusts are complex organisations that use surveillance camera systems in public areas where people under surveillance are likely to be vulnerable and distressed, and where the privacy requirements and burden on those conducting transparent, legitimate and proportionate surveillance is surely at its highest.
In order to ensure that surveillance cameras are being used appropriately, the Commissioner asked the UK government to add NHS hospitals to the list of organizations that are obliged by law to comply with the code of practice. The UK government has refused (pdf), writing to the Commissioner as follows:
When we met on 18 October, I indicated that I was not minded to amend the code to expand the list of relevant authorities [that must comply with the surveillance camera code of practice] because I considered that we had not exhausted the possibilities of increasing voluntary compliance with its requirements. That remains my position.
Reasonable enough, you might say. Except that the Commissioner had previously explained to the UK government that he had already tried asking for "voluntary compliance", only to be told by the hospitals that "they could not enforce compliance with guidance that was not mandatory". A cynic might almost think the UK government doesn't really care what its Surveillance Camera Commissioner recommends.