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ST17 London: surveillance ‘revolution’

The Security TWENTY 17 London conference yesterday heard that we’re in the ‘foothills of a new revolution in video surveillance’. That was the view of the opening speaker, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter, pictured. A returner speaker to ST events, he gave a progress report on his office’s work and urged the mixed audience of manufacturers, installers and security end users to download his national strategy from his website.

Why a strategy? As he set out in an interview with Professional Security magazine in the April 2017 print issue, on the strategy’s launch, and reiterated in a conference in London featured in the November 2017 issue, the aim is to make – and show – that surveillance is legitimate, proportionate, transparent and for keeping people safe; rather than ‘sticking one million pixels up the noses’ of citizens. Besides the millions (estimated: six million) of CCTV cameras, there are body-worn cameras (typically by police and door staff); drones; automatic number plate recognition, as used by police and by private operators, as in car parks; dash-cams; and video analytics. “Actually, I think we are in the foothills of a new revolution of video surveillance as it links into integrated technology and the key there is integrated.”

He started by setting out his work, overseeing compliance to the code of practice for surveillance cameras. While he does not have power of sanctions (fining people for not keeping to the code), as he noted, he does have the power to threaten to name and embarrass those that don’t comply. Briefly, as under the Protection of Freedoms Act the Commissioner (whose three-year term was extended this year for another three by the Home Office) reports annually to Parliament; and in March 2017 brought out the national surveillance camera strategy for England and Wales. Tony Porter, a former senior policeman, took the audience through some of the 11 ‘strands’ of the strategy, that covers civil engagement; police and local government (who are required to comply with the code of practice; for other CCTV users, it’s voluntary); and how it applies to installers, manufacturers and end users alike.

As an example of how the Commissioner has sought to enforce compliance with the code of practice, he described how letters and urgings to local authorities had brought about a 93pc compliance from councils; and a 95pc response from police forces in England and Wales: “The tanker is turning in terms of compliance,” he told the conference at the Park Inn, Heathrow.

Describing himself as a ‘retired senior cop’, whose anti-terrorism work had included the London Olympics, he repeated his view that he was not anti-surveillance; but he was ‘anti-bad-surveillance’. He wants surveillance products used correctly; and well-sited; rather than the wrong kit bought; and as for video analytics, he argued it should used not because you can, but because you should.

As examples of progress he spoke of (in the local authorities and police strand of the strategy) how police are not admitting they don’t give feedback to councils, whose CCTV systems provide police with evidence for crime investigations; and councils not understanding kpis (key performance indicators). As Tony Porter added, that councils in times of austerity are struggling to raise the £200-300,000 to refresh their kit, is ‘a real issue for manufacturers’.

On training, where Tony Porter saw manufacturers and installers’ interests as linked, he spoke of a ‘gap analysis’ to move towards harmony. On installers, the standards lead is Alex Carmichael, the chief of the SSAIB (the inspectorate one of the exhibitors at the ST17 London exhibition alongside the conference). Tony Porter said: “The charge I have given to Alex is I would like a standards framework not just for the end users.” In the manufacturers’ strand, the lead Simon Adcock (among other things the vice-chairman of the BSIA and due to become chairman of the trade association in July 2018) is developing a buyers’ tool. Tony stressed that he was driving standards up: “That was the mission the Government gave me.”

As technology advances, as he put it, ‘at the speed of light’, the downloadable self-assessment tool on the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s website not only covers the functions of a public space camera system, but when it’s combined with video analytis, facial recognition, car number plate recognition or gait analysis. Hence the strategy strand of ‘horizon scanning’, to give insight into what the future of surveillance looks like. His parting message; the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and his tools and regulation are not going away; he’s co-ordinating the industry; ‘and there’s a lot of exciting stuff coming down the line’.

One example of that was aired in the question from the floor by Irish visitor Donie O’Callaghan, who asked about the general data protection regulation (GDPR) which is coming into force across the European Union from May 2018 – including Britain, regardless of the 2016 Brexit vote – and which updates data protection law, and CCTV falls under data. In reply Tony Porter pointed to his recent signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham (briefly; the MoU covers the sharing of relevant information and the delivery of their statutory functions on data privacy). Tony Porter noted that under GDPR the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has powers to give large fines to offenders.


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