It’s an odd post, but the UK government watchdog role of surveillance camera commissioner was born out of good intentions. It emerged from the passing of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which aimed to fulfil the Lib-Con coalition government’s pledge to roll back its CCTV use. The newly appointed commissioner, however, seems to be getting carried away.
Not content with enforcing the code of conduct released last year by the first commissioner, Andrew Rennison, to offer guidance on CCTV usage to government institutions, the new ‘CCTV czar’, Tony Porter, a retired senior police leader, is now drawing up official guidance on the domestic use of surveillance equipment.
The new code is reportedly in response to a ‘surge in complaints’ from people claiming their neighbours are spying into their houses and gardens, a trend that has been enabled by the falling price of CCTV equipment in recent years. ‘You could say it’s part of the code, but you could also say it’s common decency’, Porter told the Daily Mail. ‘If there’s absolutely no requirement to impact on other people’s privacy then, frankly, you shouldn’t – it’s wrong.’
On the face of it, it’s hard to disagree with Porter. Neighbours should have enough respect for their mutual privacy to feel ashamed at the idea of monitoring each other’s activities on CCTV. If this an increasing trend, then something is certainly going awry.
But that is a big ‘if’. The Mail only offers one example of neighbours doing this. And given the relatively recent availability of the technology, a ‘surge’ in the percentage of complaints is perhaps unsurprising when starting from a very low base.