The government has published its proposed new Surveillance Camera Code of Practice  that is the fulfilment of their vacuous commitment to "further regulate CCTV" . The Home Office has also launched a short public consultation into the Code, which closes on Thursday, 21st March - so just 6 weeks.
We will publish a more detailed analysis of the proposed Code shortly, but our initial take is that it's all about perceived public confidence and not the promised protection of freedoms. The danger of producing a code of practice, particularly one so heavily laden with technical standards, is that it will be viewed as a blueprint of how to use surveillance cameras rather than a thorough evaluation of whether or not to use cameras at all. We fear a repeat of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which introduced no new powers to use surveillance, yet led to a massive increase in state intrusion by local authorities.
Orwellian definition of consent
In an echo of the hackneyed phrase 'policing by consent', the proposed code creates a truly Orwellian definition of 'surveillance by consent' - this apparently is overt surveillance in a public place in pursuit of a "legitimate aim" that "meets a pressing need" ( see paragraph 1.5 of the code, page 3). According to the Code consent is something that magically happens when a checklist is ticked, regardless of the views of the people actually being surveilled!
The code goes on to say that: "Surveillance by consent should be regarded as analogous to policing by consent" and further points out in relation to the police:
"They exercise their powers to police their fellow citizens with the implicit consent of their fellow citizens."
So when the government says consent they mean "implied consent" - in other words if you don't say you don't consent then you consent.
Next steps in the wrong direction
The Home Office says they will "analyse the responses" after the consultation has closed before the draft code of practice can be laid before Parliament for approval. They anticipate laying the draft code of practice and the draft Order providing for it to come into force before Parliament by the end of April. If approved by both Houses of Parliament (it's an order so it'll go through on the nod!) they expect the Code of Practice could come into effect around the end of June 2013.
What is really needed if the government is committed to restoring and preserving our historic and valued traditions of freedom (to borrow a phrase from the Ministerial Foreword to the 2011 code consultation ), is a thorough evaluation of surveillance cameras and an ethical discussion of whether it is appropriate to use such technology at all.
-  http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/surveillance-camera-consultation/
-  See 'The Coalition: our programme for government' (section 3: civil liberties) http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/coalition_programme_for_government.pdf
-  http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/surveillance-camera-consultation/code-of-practice?view=Binary
-  http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/consultations/cons-2011-cctv/