Information commissioners office letter

Below is the text of a letter written to us by the Information Commissioner’s Office

Dear Mr. Pearson,

I am writing in response to your e-mail to me dated 14th July 2008, relating to the use of CCTV cameras by Westminster City Council.

I must apologise for the delay in responding to your enquiry. Usually when we receive correspondence we create a case in our case management system and this is then forwarded electronically to a member of the appropriate team, with all correspondence attached, so that a member of staff with specialist knowledge of the topic can respond. This is usually a very effective system, however it appears that in your case our procedures were not followed which is why you did not receive a reply. I hope that the following will be helpful to you.

I note from your letter that you have concerns about Westminster City Council’s use of CCTV, in that they do not appear to have installed fair processing signage, nor do they appear to have installed any privacy zones.

I have looked at our CCTV Code of Practice and consulted with one of my colleagues who worked on the team which compiled it in order to respond to your letter. I should make it clear that as you suggest signage is compulsory and should be installed for cameras situated and used as you describe in your letter.

The code does state that cameras should be sited in such a position that image capture is restricted and that “they do not view areas that are not of interest and are not intended to be the subject of surveillance”.  However this is not a legal requirement it is a matter of good practice, since in some situations it may not be possible to capture the images required and, at the same time, avoid all those areas which are not of interest.

Organisations which operate CCTV are required to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998. In practical terms, this means that operators of CCTV must be trained to avoid focussing on, or recording images which are not required to carry out their work. They must also be made aware that focussing on inappropriate areas or recording inappropriate images may lead to disciplinary procedures, dismissal or prosecution. There are a number of cases where inappropriate use of CCTV has resulted in prison sentences for operators.

The ICO cannot provide a set of rules to determine how individual organisations create privacy zones. There are so many organisations using CCTV for so many different reasons that it would be impossible to create a simple and effective set of rules which would apply in all cases. It is the responsibility of each individual organisation to deal with privacy zones in an appropriate manner.
Westminster City Council should have a policy on CCTV use which would be available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This should cover the consequences of misuse. You should be able to obtain this policy by writing to the Council.

On the matter of signage I am referring this to our local government team who will be able to write to the Council and ensure that the correct signage is installed as soon as is practical. This referral will also ensure that your correspondence is entered on our system. This will generate a reference number for you, so that if you need to write to us again your correspondence can be referred promptly to the member of staff who has the full details of the case.

Yours sincerely

Lynne Shackley

Data Protection Practice Manager