This month Simon Banks talks to Tony Porter, the UK’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner and independent Government regulator. Tony is an intelligence specialist and retired senior police leader engaged to encourage compliance with the surveillance camera code of practice.

There has been a lot of controversy over the increasing use of surveillance technology and the lack of transparency that can sometimes accompany this. What’s your view?

New technology is great, whether it is drones searching for missing people on mountains or body worn cameras deflecting potential violent situations. The increasing use of integrated technology demonstrates its success, nonetheless regulators and law makers need to keep abreast of the risks i.e. who is operating the drone and is it being used ethically? Transparency is the ticket to its acceptance by the public.

You released the National Surveillance Camera Strategy in March 2017 – how much progress has been made so far?

Progress has been dynamic and fast-paced, and I am working with manufacturers, installers, police and local authorities to name a few. Already we are seeing the power of this coordinated approach to engage the industry to develop new approaches and best practice. This is enabling me to advise the Government on new challenges to legislation and we are looking across the whole spectrum of use whilst also identifying training gaps. My Annual Report to Parliament will describe more fully our challenges and successes, but overall I am delighted with progress to date.

Recently you have worked on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and launched a ‘Passport to Compliance’ document. How will these documents affect installers?

The aim of the MoU is to drive up standards, not just for end-users and operators but for manufacturers and installers. Customers will increasingly be requesting evidence of compliance to the document. I intend to introduce more recognisable independent certification for installers similar to my certification for operators. However more importantly I am determined to ensure in the field of video surveillance that single, simplified messages are delivered to support the public whilst also ensuring understandable advice is provided in what is an increasingly complex field.

The quality of CCTV has improved, with prices falling and storage increasing. Are you seeing any trends towards Cloud storage?

In 2013, research by the BSIA concluded that there were between 4 and 6 million video cameras in the UK. Since then we have seen an increase in its use. Cloud storage offers excellent opportunities for cost saving and developing more efficient processes. I am aware of several strands of work looking at how Cloud storage can support law enforcement (and private users) more effectively. This includes easy and fully auditable access that can pass evidential tests for use in court. My colleague, the Information Commissioner, released some guidance on Cloud storage that I would urge readers to consider.

How close are we to the day where a positive ID from a camera can lead to a conviction?

If you are referring to the use of positive IDs from automatic facial recognition technology, then that will be a matter for the courts and the forensic regulator. My focus is primarily upon the use of the system and the development of a database against which any cross referencing is done. High profile usage during this year’s European Cup final at Cardiff put the technology in the spotlight. I am currently engaged with the Metropolitan Police – following its use of this technology at Notting Hill Carnival – to ensure compliance with the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice.

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