Keith Spiller (Open University, UK)
Recently I rang the telephone numbers displayed on CCTV signs. After all, this is my right. By law CCTV cameras must be accompanied by signs that notify me I am being recorded and the signs must also provide contact information, just in case I want to see my images. When I sought those images from 17 different cameras only 4 provided my images.
I have been researching in the area of surveillance and surveillance studies for a number of years now and I have a deep interest in how laws governing aspects of surveillance actually work, as well as how people react and live with surveillance. CCTV is probably one of the most recognisable aspects of surveillance; indeed, it is the symbol that most often accompanies any mention of surveillance in the media. So, what better system to examine just how the regulations work in an urban setting.
The control of CCTV in the UK falls under the remit of the Data Protection Act (1998) and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Cameras monitoring private and public spaces for security purposes must adhere to the regulations set out in the Act. Specifically CCTV operators and data managers must notify people that they are being recorded, must store images with ‘integrity’ and must provide data to anyone requesting their images.
On a mild November morning I walked around the centre of a south of England city and deliberately stood under visible CCTV cameras, in an effort to get myself caught on CCTV. In total 17 cameras recorded my movement at 2 shopping malls, 3 department stores, 4 banks, 1 stadium, 1 railway station, 1 bus station, 1 university, 1 open street system, 1 town hall, 1 government building and 1 museum.
7 of these cameras had no visible contact information on their signs and of the 10 that did, 4 of the telephone numbers were dead or produced no response. I then resorted to the organisation’s webpages to find contact numbers. Which proved more fruitful, however even when contact was made, staff often did not have the correct information to hand or where unsure how to deal with my requests.
The standard way of asking for CCTV images is to submit a Subject Access Requests (SAR) and this is what I then did, writing to all 17 organisations. The responses I received detailed how on 4 occasions I did not appear in the footage, this despite standing for up to 2 minutes under cameras. My SARs on two occasion got ‘lost’ as the organisations had no record of receiving them, on other occasions my images had been deleted as systems automatically deleted files after 7 days - this despite making my request within 24 hours of standing under the cameras. Further responses demanded £20 plus VAT to process the request, even when the fee an organisation can charge is only £10.
Evident is the poor ability of organisations to deal with requests for CCTV images or simply they don’t want the hassle, or quite possibly the camera are not on. Nevertheless, what has become clear is the ease of access to urban CCTV images is certainly not as straightforward as the legislation would like it to be. For more detail on this research please see ‘Experiences of accessing CCTV data: theurban topologies of subject access requests’ published in Urban Studies.