Closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance is an increasing feature of our daily lives. There is an ongoing debate over how effective CCTV is in reducing and preventing crime, but one thing is certain, its deployment is commonplace in a variety of areas to which members of the public have free access. We might be caught on camera while walking down the high street, visiting a shop or bank or travelling through a railway station or airport.
There was no statutory basis for systematic legal control of CCTV surveillance over public areas until 1 March 2000 when the Data Protection Act 1998 came into force. The definitions in this new Act are broader than those of the Data Protection Act 1984 and so more readily cover the processing of images of individuals caught by CCTV cameras than did the previous data protection legislation. The same legally enforceable information handling standards as have previously applied to those processing personal data on computer now cover CCTV.
The standards which must be met if the requirements of the 1998 Act are to be complied are based on the eight Data Protection Principles which say that data must be;
• fairly and lawfully processed;
• processed for limited purposes and not in any manner incompatible with those purposes;
• adequate, relevant and not excessive;
• not kept for longer than is necessary
• processed in accordance with individuals' rights;
• not transferred to countries without adequate protection
The Information Commissioner does have the power to issue Enforcement Notices where he considers that there has been a breach of one or more of the Data Protection Principles. An Enforcement Notice would set out the remedial action that the Commissioner requires to ensure future compliance with the requirements of the Act. In the case of CCTV, the Information Commissioner will take into account the extent to which the users of such surveillance equipment have complied with the CCTV Code of Practice (see below) when determining whether they have met their legal obligations when exercising his powers of enforcement.
A further aspect of the Data Protection Act 1998 is that it allows the Information Commissioner to produce, where appropriate, Codes of Practice providing guidance in connection with the legislation. It was determined that because of the increasing and widespread use of video surveillance systems, that a code of practice covering this field would be beneficial. The code, as produced, deals with surveillance in areas to which the public have largely free and unrestricted access (for example town centres and large shopping complexes) because there was a particular concern about a lack of regulation and central guidance in this area.