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Strategy Director, Security & Fire, Informa Markets EMEA

June 17, 2020


State of Physical Access Trend Report 2024

Surveillance technology

Surveillance in modern society: where next?

Gerry Dunphy, Strategy Director for IFSEC International, explores the role of surveillance technology in modern society, and why the conversation has been highlighted once more with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The use of surveillance cameras in modern society has always been divisive, requiring governing bodies to perform a fine balancing act between respecting the nation’s civil liberties and keeping its citizens safe and secure. It’s a multi-layered issue incorporating many dimensions, including technology, legislation, code of ethics and conduct, and one that triggers conversation year-round.

This conversation has become significantly louder in light of COVID-19, which has seen extended use of mass surveillance, including drones by police forces to enforce lockdown rules, monitoring of social distancing, the Government’s Track and Trace app and biometrics. Despite having public safety at their heart, they have reignited the debate about how far surveillance measures can and should go, which is understandable at times of national crisis.

The topic of surveillance cameras was spotlighted during IFSEC Digital Week, when Tony Porter presented a ‘State of the Nation’ keynote address updating us on its role during the current crisis. He also announced a new standard – Principle 8 – set to be launched later this year. Aligned to the Government’s gold standard of surveillance, it is anticipated that organisations will expect businesses to meet this new standard before employing them, adding an additional layer of credibility to the industry.

WATCH: Security and the State of the Nation webinar, featuring Tony Porter, Surveillance Camera Commissioner

Tony Porter, England & Wales Surveillance Camera Commissioner

Tony was appointed the Government’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner in 2014 and introduced the first ever National Camera Surveillance Day, which was launched at IFSEC International 2019. He draws from his experience in business and law enforcement to give advice and information to the public and system operators about the effective, appropriate, proportionate and transparent use of surveillance camera systems. Additionally, his office is responsible for encouraging compliance of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, continually reviewing how the code is working and providing government ministers with recommendations for future revisions.

Technology and public safety

As the technology develops, we are seeing more sophisticated AI being integrated into surveillance systems and facial recognition technology, in particular, is creating a stir in terms of practice and legislation.

In the UK, we recently saw the first criminal charges brought by a force through facial recognition technology. It’s a move welcomed by many, but others are more cautious about how we can ensure analytics and facial recognition is used appropriately for surveillance purposes.

It’s a topic facing scrutiny beyond the UK: the associated data processing contravenes GDPR according to European legislation outside of the jurisdiction of the police. Both in terms of data storage and original consent, the legislation designed to protect and enhance the public’s privacy has largely curbed any widescale roll out of facial recognition integration.

Following Brexit, will the UK follow suit? Or will there be an even more widespread adoption of facial recognition technology? Personally, I think the debate will bubble away for some time to come and the rolling impact of COVID-19 surveillance will certainly dictate in the short term. When you look at trends like ‘scraping the internet’ and widescale breaches of privacy or data leaks, it’s easy to understand why there is some opposition. The industry needs to carefully evaluate the costs versus the benefits on an ongoing basis.

Cyber security

Cyber security is another major issue in the modern world that we are reacting to as it evolves, and one that the traditionally physical world of security management is fast getting to grips with. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the sheer speed; the pace cyber criminals can operate and the rate that technology is leaping ahead of people’s understanding of it.

The security industry is investing heavily in surveillance technology that is fit for purpose: hardware and software that is integrated and secure by default to reinforce cyber security measures. This is not only a massive challenge in terms of surveillance, but also a huge opportunity, and an area I think we’re only going to see grow.

Civil liberties

With any type of surveillance, we have to always ensure that the appropriate code of ethics and conduct are followed, and we operate within those boundaries at all times. Surveillance can be intrusive and managing security within the parameters of the law is critical to maintaining the integrity of our industry.

Surveillance is a vast and varied topic and one that can present some very emotive and social issues, as well as legislative and technological ones. We take our GDPR responsibilities very seriously, and work very closely with the industry to ensure that compliance is adopted far and wide.

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