The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has warned camera surveillance operators that monitoring equipment must only be used as a "necessary and proportionate response" to a "real and pressing problem".
The warning comes as the ICO publishes its updated CCTV code of practice. The update includes a look at the data protection requirements placed on operators of new and emerging surveillance technologies, including drones and body worn video cameras.
Jonathan Bamford, ICO head of strategic liaison, said: “The UK is one of the leading users of CCTV and other surveillance technologies in the world. The technology on the market today is able to pick out even more people to be recorded in ever greater detail. In some cases that detail can then be compared with other databases."
But, he said: “Surveillance cameras should not be deployed as a quick fix, but a proportionate response to a real and pressing problem. Putting in surveillance cameras or technology like automatic number plate recognition and body worn video is often seen as the first option. But before deploying it you need to understand the problem and whether that is an effective and proportionate solution."
He said a failure to do "proper privacy impact assessments" in advance has been a "common theme" in ICO enforcement cases to protect the privacy of the public.
The new guidance explains the issues that operators should consider before installing such surveillance technology, the measures that organisations should have in place to make sure excessive amounts of personal information isn't being collected, and the steps organisations should take to make sure the information is kept secure and destroyed once it is no longer required.
The ICO’s CCTV Code of Practice complements the provisions in the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, which applies to police forces, local authorities and police and crime commissioners in England and Wales, as described in the Protection of Freedoms Act.
Recent enforcement action taken by the ICO to stop the "excessive use" of CCTV includes an enforcement notice served on Southampton City Council, after the council required the video and audio recording of the city’s taxi passengers 24 hours a day.
The ICO also served an enforcement notice on Hertfordshire Constabulary after the force began using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to record every car entering and leaving the small rural town of Royston in Hertfordshire. In both cases the excessive use of surveillance cameras was reduced following the ICO’s action.