Opposition to CCTV plans in Oxford

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This past week has seen an interesting turn of events in Oxford – city of dreaming spires… and home to more than a few concerned citizens worried about the encroachment of surveillance on their everyday lives. Oxford City Council has been challenged by the Information Commissioner’s Office in England and Wales to justify the need for the city’s taxi cabs to install CCTV capable of recording passengers’ conversations. The ICO’s CCTV code of practice states that: “CCTV must not be used to record conversations between members of the public, as this is highly intrusive.” Much then hinges on whether such a capability is deemed “not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed” as stated in Schedule 1 of the 1998 Data Protection Act.

Oxford City Council responded that the risk of intrusion is acceptable so long as passengers are informed: “Oxford City Council considers that so long as clear notices are provided in vehicles which inform passengers that video and audio recording may be taking place, the risk of intrusion is acceptable compared to the public safety benefits. In any event, the level of privacy reasonably to be expected in a licensed vehicle is far lower than that expected in the privacy of ones home or own car.”

Local politician Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, appears to share the concern that voice recording may be a step too far – and has written to Oxford City Council, noting: “CCTV plays an important role in combating crime but that has to be balanced with privacy concerns and used within common sense limits. I would need to see some very convincing evidence of a significant crime and anti-social behaviour problems in taxis that needs to be tackled by this specific measure in order to be convinced that it can be justified, and that it is in compliance with existing Data Protection legislation.”

It will be interesting to see how Oxford City Council react, and whether a compromise may be sought – perhaps CCTV in taxi cabs with just image registering (absent voice recording ). The council has suggested that notices displayed in vehicles, informing passengers that video and audio recording is taking place, is sufficient. However, the council might reflect as to whether all can indeed read such displays: consider the visually impaired, those with a limited grasp of written English, for example. How might they be duly informed of a possible privacy intrusion?

Categories: CCTV