"There are over 6,000 systems and 80,000 cameras in operation across 183 LAs!" So exclaimed the UK's outgoing Surveillance Camera Commissioner as he detailed just how many council CCTV cameras there are across the nation.
In a public plea asking councils to take compliance with surveillance laws seriously, Tony Porter lifted the lid on the scale and depth of CCTV camera deployment across Great Britain.
The figure of 80,000 cameras across 183 councils covers just under half of Britain's 343 local authorities (LAs), meaning district and county councils, unitary authorities, metropolitan districts and London boroughs.
Local authorities have access to "recent innovations such as dash cams and body-worn video" deployed across the length and breadth of boroughs and counties, as Porter explained in a recent blog post asking councils to ensure they comply with the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
"I unequivocally support LAs having the right to legitimately use surveillance camera technologies where it's both necessary and proportionate for them to do so. The caveat to my support however is that any such use must be lawful, ethical and conducted within a clear and transparent framework of legitimacy which can be held to effective and independent account," wrote the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, echoing calls he first made five years ago.
That framework stems from section 29 of the PofF Act, which creates a statutory code of practice for CCTV operators overseen by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner. Yet councils appear to believe that showing they comply with the code is not a high priority.
Just half of councils across the UK responded to a survey issued by the commissioner asking whether they were obeying the code and the law, though Porter pointed out that the survey was issued just as the first UK lockdown hit earlier this year, meaning they did have bigger things to worry about.
Porter has previously faced stiff resistance from councils who believe they answer to nobody when it comes to CCTV cameras, with some even describing his transparency initiatives as security risks. Last year the commissioner suggested councils hold CCTV control room open days to let the public take a peek inside and ask questions.
"It's interesting that a small minority of LAs say they're working in partnership with members of the public," noted Porter in his recent blog. "This may be where there's volunteers monitoring CCTV for LAs, links with community groups/neighbourhood watch or housing associations."
The Surveillance Camera Commissioner also operates a certification scheme where councils can proudly boast that they're doing the right thing. So far 100 organisations have signed up to that.
In December Porter's current run as commissioner ends, and he does not expect to be reappointed. He concluded: "I like to think I've left the surveillance space in a much better place than when I started and established great foundations for my successor to build on." ®