National security inspectorate event on the affects of CCTV systems

The commissioner’s speech on how the SCC code of practice could affect installers of surveillance camera systems.

Tony Porter

I would like to thank the NSI for inviting me to speak at this event. I’ve been in this role almost a year now and have spoken at numerous events. A lot of these have been attended by the end users of CCTV – CCTV Operators, Managers and the police. So, it’s good to speak to the people who actually install systems, those who can advise the man in the street (or shop) what to install or indeed whether CCTV is the best solution!

I only have ten minutes which is not much time and I’ve been known to go on for much longer so I want to cut to the chase. But before I do some quick background.

My role was created under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. I’m entrusted to ensure that surveillance camera systems are used to support and protect communities – not spy on them. To help me do there is the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice which contains 12 guiding principles which, if followed, will mean cameras are only ever used proportionately, transparently and effectively. I’m required to:

  • encourage compliance with the code
  • review the operation of the code
  • advise on any amendments to how the code should develop

As an installer you might be thinking – why is he here talking to me? I just install the system; I don’t operate the systems I install so this isn’t applicable.

Ultra surveillance

Over the last five to ten years we’ve seen an ever increasing interest in surveillance from civil liberty groups, politicians and the media as well as members of the public.

We’ve seen the fall out from Snowden, the concerns about the data Google capture when we use their search engine and the Smart TVs record everything in its owner’s home. This interest in surveillance has seen groups such as Big Brother Watch and NO CCTV emerge. So, surveillance is at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds – that includes CCTV – and in this country we (you’ve) installed almost six million cameras. So, I’d challenge installers who says what I do is irrelevant to them and would strongly argue that they have a key role in helping end users understand the principles in the code.

For many an installer is their first contact with the world of CCTV or surveillance cameras. Probably the person they will trust to tell them about the system they’re having installed, how it works and the regulatory framework it sits within. They might have questions around privacy and how they can avoid intruding on people’s privacy or avoid capturing footage they probably shouldn’t.

And following a recent European judgement domestic CCTV now falls within the regulatory framework. Any camera on a dwelling which captures any public space such as a public footpath at the end a drive way OR space not owned the camera operator is now subject to the Data Protection Act.

You are NSI approved installers so I would expect that you already advise customers on things they should be thinking about when operating the system you’ve installed.

As I’ve already mentioned one of my objectives is to review the operation of the code and report back to the Home Secretary. Today I want to begin a debate on this – how is it working? Is it working? What works well and what needs to change?

But more than that I want to explore the regulatory landscape that CCTV occupies so I can provide some real recommendations to ministers that will make it better, improve it. And by improve it I mean improve it for all – installers and manufacturers, operators and managers as well as the police as end users and members of the public.


As part of this review I’m determined to highlight what can be done raise standards across the board and simplify what already exists – it is a horribly complex place.

So, how can we raise standards?

This can be done in many ways and I was discussing this with a colleague on my Standards Board recently. We we’re talking about whether there need to be statutory minimum standards for installers, manufacturers and operators. Something in legislation that sets a bare minimum that everyone must legally meet.

After some discussion he said to me “Tony – you need to be careful about setting minimum standards in legislation as you may very well see a race to the bottom.”

I think it’s clear what he meant in that if there is a minimum that is all people will strive for – they won’t go over and above it, it becomes the lowest common denominator.

But is there some way that we can introduce minimum standards that is self regulated by the industry or is legislation the only realistic proposal?

Public space

Another area I’m keen to look as part of the review is who should have to ‘pay due regard’ to the code, who must comply with it. This was one area of fervent debate when the Government consulted on the code in 2013 – Government opted for an incremental self-regulated approach.

Currently only relevant authorities must pay due regard to the code which is essentially local authorities and the police. It accounts for around five per cent of cameras.

But what about all the other places that the public have access – Universities, Football Stadiums and shopping malls but to name a few. All places that I’m sure you install cameras and have as clients. All places that a member of the public would probably consider as public space.

When someone walks form a street monitored by Local Authority CCTV in to a shopping mall monitored by a private company do they consider themselves in a public space – I would hazard a guess that they do. So, why must one organisation comply with the code whereas it’s voluntary for the other?

Should anyone operating CCTV that monitors public space have to comply with the code? Would they have to do much more than they are already doing such as comply with the data protection act. Also what do people believe a public authority to be – should it include residential social landlords who’ve taken over housing departments of councils? Should it include large travel operators like Transport for London? Currently it doesn’t – organisation like these own and operate tens of thousands of cameras.

So, I’m keen to explore who should have due regard and want to tap in to your expertise as people installing these systems that survey thousands of people.

Sanction and inspection

One thing that has been levelled at the code and my role is that it lacks teeth. This is a fair comment I think. I don’t have any powers of sanction or inspection. So if a relevant authority is not paying due regard to the code of practice there is not much I can do.

The government is committed to light touch regulation and minimal red tape for business – this is understandable. But I don’t think that ‘light touch’ regulation should be confused with doing nothing if organisations don’t comply with rules or regulations.

Should I have a stick to beat people with if those who are meant to comply fail to do so? How big should it be? What should it look like? I was once told embarrassment is a very powerful tool, if not the most – would a list of non-compliant organisation published for all to see suffice rather than a financial penalty?


You may still be sitting here, 10 minutes after I started, and thinking – still nothing to do with me. That’s where I think you are wrong – you may have heard a famous quote – “evil happens when good men do nothing…”. This is your chance to do something, to have your say and to make a difference.

I think as installers you can play a key role here. You are in a position to advise end users on how they can use CCTV effectively, proportionately and responsibly.

You deal with a myriad of organisations who are using CCTV and installing new systems – those who currently must pay due regard to the code and those who don’t. So, you can bring excellent insight to any extension or change to the regulatory landscape, tell us where we might need to introduce sanctions and where we could look at minimum standards across the industry.

I’m running a workshop this afternoon looking at the review of the operation of the code. I want to hear how you think it should develop and tell me what I should put in my recommendations to the Home Secretary in the autumn.

It’s an excellent opportunity for you to feed in your views and I hope to speak to lots of you this afternoon.

Published 12 March 2015