ICO could ban CCTV audio recording

Jan Harris

August 6, 2007

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is developing new guidelines which could ban CCTV operators from recording people’s voices.

The organisation is updating its 2000 code of practice, a document which aims to help CCTV operators comply with the Data Protection Act.

The ICO has launched a public consultation on the proposed changes to the guidelines, which include the recommendation that CCTV should not be used to record conversations between members of the public as it is “highly intrusive and unlikely to be justified”.

The new document advises CCTV operators to choose a system without an audio recording facility whenever possible. It also suggests that if a system features a sound recording facility, this should be turned off or disabled.

The proposed guidelines will allow a limited use of audio – to broadcast messages to those under surveillance, for example, as long as the messages are directly related to the purpose for which the system was established.

Two-way audio feeds from CCTV ‘help-points’ would also be permitted, as long as these are activated by the person seeking assistance.

The ICO hopes that the changes will reassure the public that CCTV is being used responsibly and for a proper purpose.

The UK has more CCTV cameras per head of population that any other country in the world, and although there is public support for the crime prevention benefits of CCTV, there is also increasing concern over privacy issues.

The ICO is seeking comments from organisations and individuals potentially affected by the proposed changes to the guidelines. The consultation period will run until the end of October.


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