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Adam Bannister is a contributor to IFSEC Global, having been in the role of Editor from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam also had stints as a journalist at cybersecurity publication, The Daily Swig, and as Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
March 27, 2019


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Surveillance Camera Commissioner

Innovation has revitalised video surveillance – but amplified privacy challenges: Tony Porter

Upon becoming Surveillance Camera Commissioner in March 2014, Tony Porter encountered an industry with “no clear direction of travel”.

Porter, whose background was in covert surveillance, found that the overt surveillance sector was an “energetic but uncertain industry”.

Speaking recently at the annual NSI Summit in Birmingham, the former senior police officer outlined the thought processes that later birthed the National surveillance camera strategy for England and Wales.

Rewind further back still, to the aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, and CCTV had almost fallen out of fashion, with concepts like AI a “mere glint in the eye”.

An explosion of innovation has taken video surveillance beyond identikit bullet and dome cameras

Porter’s appointment by the government to oversee compliance with the surveillance camera code of practice coincided with a renaissance in the sector. An explosion of innovation took video surveillance beyond identikit bullet and dome cameras in a range of colours spanning greys, white and black. There emerged drones and body-worn cameras, while facial recognition made a great leap forward in terms of accuracy and new features like gait analysis.

Five years on the industry is worth £2.5bn a year and – largely due to a darkened threat landscape –high on the Home Office agenda. Compliance has become an increasingly important issue with the GDPR a notable landmark.

National surveillance camera strategy

Each strand of the National surveillance camera strategy has a delivery plan and Porter reports progress to parliament each year.

At the Vox in Birmingham he referred to the strategy as a “toddler” – with its two years of development being a “tough” period. Thankfully the NSI, which provides certification for security and fire companies, was there to “hold my hand”.

Porter eventually alighted on a “whole system approach” as the key to drive standards. Through the strategy he sought to bring harmony to a “fractured” sector – but how?

To name a few: inviting input from experts in ethics, engagement with a citizenry with legitimate privacy concerns about AI surveillance and facial recognition, as well as horizon scanning – what threats and challenges lie in the middle distance?

As Surveillance Camera Commissioner Porter has launched the following tools and initiatives:

  • Simplifying procurement against a complex compliance backdrop with a guide, aimed at non-experts, for buying a surveillance camera system
  • A Surveillance Camera Code of Practice self-assessment tool
  • Passport to compliance guidance, which helps organisations installing and operating surveillance camera systems comply with the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice
  • Promoting secure by design and secure by default principles – as championed by the National Cyber Security Centre
  • Collaboration with the NSI around certifying installers, consultants and service providers

Multiple trends, said Porter, will make balancing security and privacy ever-more challenging in the years to come. AI, face recognition, the internet of things and smart cities promise to make his role increasingly vital in maintaining public consent for video surveillance.

Against this backdrop, Porter emphasised his commitment to being an independent voice – being willing to “go toe to toe” with the government when required.

On his blog he recently wrote: “The public do not expect an analogue police force in a digital age (but they have every right to expect clear, transparent and common-sense laws and rules to govern police conduct and use of the those technologies – as indeed do the police themselves). […] “The establishment of the Home Office Law Enforcement Facial Images and New Biometric Modalities Oversight and Advisory Board has been a step in the right direction but more is required.

“[The Surveillance Camera Code of Practice] was published in 2013. Things were different then. I have advised Government consistently since 2016 that it needs to change and evolve. Government (in June 2018) committed, within its Biometric Strategy, to review the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice.

“I’ve had conversations with the Home Office on the review but progress has been glacial. If public reassurance is to be gained this needs to progress quickly.”

Porter spoke on the issue of data-driven surveillance and the privacy-security balance at a 2018 event covered by IFSEC Global.

Back at the NSI Summit, Porter concluded by posing a question to his audience of mostly installers and service providers: how can you help your customers comply and present yourself as credible and compliant?

The NSI Summit 2019 welcomed “more delegates than ever”, according to the NSI’s chief executive. Richard Jenkins said feedback from “speakers, exhibitors and our key sponsors has been overwhelmingly positive.”

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[…] you’re in a public space, you’re in the eye of the public. So what’s the difference in being watched by a closed circuit TV camera? Even if you were caught picking your nose the police aren’t going to arrest you for that and […]