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News

Overcoming Surveillance System Privacy Issues

Mirasys : 25 August, 2010  (Special Report)
Iain Cameron of Mirasys discusses public privacy issues surrounding the use of CCTV surveillance in the UK and explains how simple measures such as privacy masking, storage management and independent justification analysis can help in establishing confidence that privacy is being considered during installations
The UK is acknowledged as being one of the world's foremost users of CCTV, and 'Big Brother' is a phrase that we commonly hear associated with surveillance. Whilst organisations such as the Information Commissioners Office and Camera Watch exist to help regulate the proper implementation and usage of CCTV and surveillance systems, data protection concepts aren't necessarily being translated into actions. Here, Iain Cameron, MD, Mirasys, discusses how camera users can keep the public onside.

The use of CCTV surveillance in both a covert and overt sense is always best applied when supported by the public. Overt surveillance is subject to guidelines from the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). Similarly, covert operations are under strict regulation by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). However, undertaking an independent analysis to justify the use of CCTV could further assure the public of its intended use. For example, proactive assessment could justify why a camera is positioned in a particular way and therefore how effective it is likely to be. By planning this way, end users and installers can ensure that the correct cameras are in place, providing high quality footage that would be admissible as evidence in a court of law.

Publically available, well-defined documentation detailing the purpose of a system and how the image data is protected from unauthorised access could reassure the public that data security is always a top priority. Demonstrating how CCTV systems have been effective is another way of garnering support. Drawing public attention to reduced levels of crime in a particular area since the installation of CCTV or even highlighting specific instances where crimes have been solved thanks to CCTV, could help legitimise its widespread use in the eyes of the public.

Precisely targeted observation avoids unintentional recording of areas outside the surveillance area. Strict control therefore enhances levels of public privacy and reduces the amount of erroneous footage that is captured which also reduces storage requirements. To achieve this, digital masking and fixed camera positions can ensure that only Building A is being monitored while neighbouring Building B is out of the system view. To detect motion, simple algorithms can be configured on the camera to ensure constant recording at a low resolution and frame rate which can then automatically be increased if the alarm is activated by movement. Utilising these simple, standard system features can therefore reconfirm CCTV for targeted surveillance monitoring.

It is often the case that seemingly inconsequential footage such as an individual walking down a road can actually prove to be a vital piece of evidence for a police investigation. However, archiving or deleting data as soon as its availability is determined to be no longer required shows a commitment to privacy. Equally important is the ability for authorised users to quickly access and manage files that might be needed in the event of an incident. Systems that improve the quality of data and the speed at which it can be accessed in analogue, IP and hybrid infrastructures can therefore add significant value. If CCTV data was stored centrally, in a 'cloud', access and management could prove more straightforward. Improving data transmission and decreasing storage costs means that this is becoming a genuinely viable option In order to promote public support for CCTV, police can encourage end users to play a greater role in defining their CCTV requirements to installers. Reiterating the need to support analogue, IP, HD and Hybrid camera infrastructures will make certain that surveillance environments are future proof and accommodate the end users changing requirements. Ensuring that the right cameras are in place helps to increase the likelihood that CCTV footage will be admissible as evidence in court, intrinsically proving its value. This goes a long way towards reassuring the public of its fundamental role in the prevention and prosecution of crimes.
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