Proportionality, privacy and pubs

There’s another of those news stories today which makes me wonder if I’ve read it right. It concerns Lancashire Police, who are apparently exercising their power (under licensing laws introduced in 2005) to refuse a license to pubs which, in their view, have “inadequate security camera coverage”. A PC from the licensing department of Preston police is quoted as saying:

“It’s for public safety and their own safety to detect crime. The pub had minimal CCTV – it wasn’t recording. If an incident had happened and we needed to get evidence and locate an offender, we couldn’t have from there. Even the staff aren’t safe in those conditions.”

A little research reveals that this isn’t the first time something similar has been done. This blog post from Canadian privacy lawyer David Fraser describes a similar case in Halifax (Nova Scotia, not West Yorkshire), and also refers to one in the Borough of Islington.

To my mind, these cases raise several questions, perhaps the most important of which is this:

– if the lack of CCTV can be cited (on grounds of public safety and the detection of crime) as a reason for closing down a pub, what locations cannot, logically, be similarly covered? Anywhere I go – whether indoors or outdoors, whether in a public place or someone’s house, I could presumably fall victim to some kind of theft or assault. Why single out pubs?

– Second, there’s the question of evidence. It may well be that the Lancashire police insisted on CCTV in this particular pub because of some history of criminal activity there… but as the piece on the BigBrotherWatch site points out, there are also cases where the presence of CCTV footage has failed to deliver the promised evidence in support of effective law enforcement. Where are the criteria and facts which would support the decision to insist on CCTV in one place and not another?

And that brings us to the third point; given that the police have been granted power over the licensing conditions, the power to insist on disclosure of the personal data collected, and the authority to use that to arrest people, why do they not have a corresponding responsibility to ensure that such systems are operated correctly and accountably? As a simple example – why don’t the police, as part of their licensing responsibilities, have a duty to ensure that any CCTV installation is appropriately labelled with the identity and contact details of the owner/operator, and the purpose for which the cameras are used?

With any other form of data collection, the data controller would be legally obliged to issue a fair processing notice, be identifiable, and be accessible to Subect Access Requests. With any other form of data collection, the notion of informed consent would be applicable. Why is CCTV treated differently?

When it comes down to it, the balance of the Police’s powers in this instance is simply wrong: as thing stand, they have the power simply to compel a landlord to install CCTV or be shut down; surely it would be more appropriate for the police to have to show, as a condition of refusing a licence, that it is appropriate, in this instance, for them to make use of the powers and duties available to them under RIPA. This would impose a requirement to show that the surveillance is proportionate and accurately reflects a need to act on specific risks. It would also introduce an obligation to consider the balancing imperatives of the Human Rights Act.

Whether or not you feel that CCTV in and around pubs is a sensible law enforcement mechanism, there is surely a gross imbalance here between what is currently deemed proportionate in terms of surveillance, and what is considered necessary in terms of accountability and subject access.

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4 thoughts on “Proportionality, privacy and pubs

  1. Richard says:

    Home Office studies have shown that, with the exception of installations in car parks, video surveillance systems neither prevent crime nor improve public safety. Furthermore, footage from 96% of systems is of insufficient quality to be admitted as evidence in court. Therefore I should think licensees would have good grounds to appeal if they were forced to close for refusing to pay for a SS installation.I've blogged a few times about the effectiveness of surveillance systems and how they could be improved.

  2. Robin Wilton says:

    Many thanks, Richard. I'm told there's also a good paper on this coming out early next year from UCL. I'll keep an eye out, and link to it from here if I can.

  3. No, this is a brilliant idea. You link the CCTV to face recognition software, and then you rig up a set of lights over the pub doorway, so that the barman can see immediately which customers are underage drinkers, trade unionists, illegal immigrants, or suspected drug-dealers and terrorists. The criminals and communists (same thing really) can be politely steered towards the table with the hidden microphone, which connects directly to the police radio. Sorted.

  4. Robin Wilton says:

    Sorry Richard (V)… I don't understand; why bother with the microphone for these miscreants to incriminate themselves… when their guilt has already been decided? ;^)

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