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CCTV and Privacy

Britain has implemented an extensive video surveillance system called Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), with over 4 million cameras watching over public areas. The purpose of the cameras is for officials in monitoring centers to watch for suspicious behavior and dispatch the police if they see crime developing. CCTV footage has also been used to investigate crimes. For more about CCTV, see this great article by my colleague, Jeffrey Rosen.

In a classic example of the secondary use of information–the use of personal data for another purpose totally unrelated to the purpose for which it was originally collected–CCTV clips are frequently used by the media to entertain. From the Daily Mail:

Television shows should not be allowed to use CCTV footage as entertainment, the privacy watchdog said.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said it was inappropriate for images from surveillance systems set up to fight crime to be broadcast.

The crackdown could spell the end for shows that present surveillance of crimes, accidents and public disorder such as Police, Camera, Action or Booze Britain.

But it is unlikely to stop footage being shown on the news or Crimewatch.

He also set out tougher rules limiting the spread of surveillance cameras, amid growing fears that the network is creating a Big Brother state.

There are 4.2million CCTV cameras in Britain and it is estimated that people in cities are filmed 300 times a day.

Mr Thomas has already warned that Britain is the most watched country in the world.

Issuing new draft guidelines he said: “You should carefully consider whether to use CCTV.

“The fact that it is possible, affordable or has public support should not be the primary motivating factor.’

Condemning its use on TV, his report said: “It would not be appropriate to disclose images of identifiable individuals to the media for entertainment.”

Simon Davis, director of campaign group Privacy International, said: “As viewers we should be weaned off that habit. It’s often pure entertainment with no public interest.

The UK has already gotten into trouble with the European Court of Human Rights for its use of CCTV footage. In Peck v. United Kingdom, 44647/98 [2003] ECHR 44, the UK was found in violation of Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights for supplying CCTV footage of a man attempting suicide.

Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

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