Speech to the annual data privacy conference

Surveillance Camera Commissioner

March 14
09:32 2018

Im delighted to be speaking at this event hosted by Taylor Wessing today. From the very start of my Commission as an independent regulator this law firm has been a good friend to my offices particularly in supporting my knowledge and understanding of the world of data protection and its application to video surveillance camera systems. Indeed you hosted my first ever webinar regarding surveillance camera systems. I thank you for that enduring friendship and acknowledge the calibre of your offices.

In the context of regulating surveillance camera systems am going to tell you a little about my role and regulatory interests, provide a synopsis of my views as to the regulatory framework and discuss a new paradigm.

I am mindful that I am amongst a host of data protection experts today, however what I really want to talk to you about is a subject which I consider to be the key issue occupying my regulatory focus, namely the growing capabilities and appetite for use of increasingly intrusive technologies integrated with surveillance camera systems in society. Of course data protection is a significant element of this subject but it is a much broader consideration than data protection alone.

For over six months now I have been endeavouring to energise engagement, discussion and debate on this matter with, amongst others, the Home Office, Government Ministers, the National Police Chiefs Council, police forces, civil libertarians, the public and indeed fellow regulators. It is a matter which is gathering momentum in the public consciousness and I will continue to encourage debate and engagement as I believe that doing so will be a catalyst for change in support of public interest. The public interest which demands clear legislation, transparency in governance and approach and a coherent and effective regulatory framework in which they can have confidence.

Let me use the example of Automated Facial Recognition, or AFR as it is referred to, as an illustration. When I launched my National Surveillance Camera Strategy just over a year ago I engaged with a broad spectrum of stakeholders including police, public and privacy campaigners to better understand the divergence of opinion around its use. In the case of Liberty the message I received was; we are deeply concerned by the lack of progress on securing any form of independent oversight of the use of AFR -particularly used by LE (Law Enforcement Agencies).

I agree.

Then consider the view of the eminent David Anderson QC, formerly the Governments independent reviewer of counter terrorism legislation who said; either you think technology has presented us with strong powers that the government should use with equally strong safeguards or you believe this technology is so scary we should pretend its not there. And I firmly believe in the first category not because I say government is to be trusted but instead because in a mature democracy such as this one were capable of constructing safeguards that are good enough for the benefits to outweigh the disadvantages.

I agree.

David has a sharp mind -let me tell you about a programmed use of AFR in China called Sharp Eyes as an insight as to where the use of intrusive surveillance technologies can lead. Sharp Eyes -Xue Liang - Chongqing -the future?

This is a capability developing in China which connects security cameras with AFR that scans roads, shopping malls and transport hubs. It can connect to private and compound cameras and buildings and integrate then into one nationwide surveillance platform. This capability is backed up with a police cloud scooping up information of citizens, be it criminal, medical, commercial, socio -demographic upheaval and political unrest. Indeed the police commander Chongqing said; With AFR we can recognise strangers, analyse their entry and exit points, see who spends the night there and how many times.

As you may know I have a background in strategic leadership in the field of counter terror-ism. I consider this to be a nightmare scenario where the will of a totalitarian state continues its intrusive evolution through technology, seemingly unhindered by any regard to the will of the people or mechanisms to keep things in check.

That of course is China -it will not happen here will it? But could it? Only last month I wrote to Chief Constable Sarah Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs Council formally bringing to her attention my concerns regarding discussions in police circles about bringing together public space video surveillance camera systems and integrating them for police use. There are aspects of these proposals which for me resonate with Operation Cham-pion - a police initiative to erect a ring of ANPR cameras around a predominantly Muslim community under the guise of Crime Prevention -when the larger intent was to support counter terrorism policing. The public outcry which followed in that particular case ensured that the cameras were never switched on.

But first, my role.

I thought it might be useful if I give you a little background about my role as Surveillance Camera Commissioner. It was created under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. I was appointed by the Home Secretary but am independent from Government. My commission was extended for a further term of three years as recently as last March. Im entrusted to ensure that surveillance camera systems are used to support and protect communities not spy on them. My primary focus is the overt use of surveillance cameras in public places by relevant authorities as defined in the legislation, in England and Wales by statutory mandate and indeed this extends to any organization operating such systems in encouraging them to voluntarily adopt the Code which I oversee. The Code in question is the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice which is issued by the Secretary of State and contains 12 guiding principles which if followed will mean cameras are only ever used proportionately, transparently and effectively. Typically surveillance cameras falling within my purview include CCTV, ANPR, body worn cameras, drone and helicopter mounted cameras, dashboard cameras and analytic systems, reference systems, automatic facial systems etc.

It is very important that I make it clear that in publishing the Secretary of States Code, the use of evolving technologies in society was foreseen by Government and indeed the use of facial recognition systems explicitly referenced within its pages. Those of you familiar with the content of the Code will of course know that the Code sets out that such technologies will be regulated by it and paragraph 3.2.3 makes it clear that the use of such systems must be validated, and that I am a source of advice on validation. You will understand therefore my enduring determination and commitment to ensure that this is debate which remains energized and to which I will remain central.

My statutory role is three fold, namely to encourage compliance with the code, review the operation of the code and in reviewing the impact of the Code, to advise on any amendments to how it should develop. Indeed I have recently made recommendations with regards to ANPR. My Annual Report was laid before Parliament only a few weeks ago. Chapter 5 of the SC Code describes how I may regulate.

Relevant Authorities are my key focus and they are essentially police, local authorities, Po-lice and Crime Commissioners, National Crime Agency and non designated police forces. They all have a duty to have regard to the Code.

The Code also touches on obligations of operators of surveillance camera systems under the provisions of the Data Protection Act and significantly paragraph 2.2 of the Secretary of States Code provides that increasingly intrusive technologies when used as part of a surveillance camera system must be regulated by the Code. The guiding principles within the Code also specifically refer to areas where I must engage with new technology.

You may be forgiven for asking why AFR is considered as a video surveillance system at all when it is in fact merely a biometric algorithm. The answer lies in Section 29(6) Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 which defines the surveillance camera systems of my focus as being CCTV, ANPR, any other system for recording or viewing visual images for surveillance purposes, any systems for storing, receiving, transmitting, processing or checking images or information obtained by those systems, and, wait for it, any other systems associated with, or otherwise connected with those systems. Integrated technologies!

My journey with technology thus far reaches back to 2014 when AFR was a little more than a mere pixel in the eye of the motherboard. In 2015 when Slipknot and Muse should have been making headlines for their musical calibre at the Download Festival it was Leicestershire Police who instead grabbed the headlines due to public concerns about their use of AFR at this event. Why? Well concerns included an absence of clarity as to the legal basis for its use, limited transparency and civil engagement, the credentials of the equipment being used, the database of images involved, where was regulatory over-sight and who said it was ok to use it and on what basis?

The Metropolitan Police made use of AFR at the Notting Hill Carnival in 2016. This too attracted concerns because the results of the deployment were not published, and concerns were raised regarding engagement, legality, reliability of equipment being used, the image database, evaluation and governance. They repeated this exercise in 2017 and whilst concerns remain, they reached out to regulators for guidance and completed my Self Assessment tool and a DPIA issued by the ICO.

South Wales Police employ AFR and have used it at

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