Freedom to roam but at what price?
Threats to both personal and national security have never been greater. For the most part we travel freely across public space, but – some say – for the high price of intrusive surveillance. So, is that price worth paying?
Safety and security are an integral part of modern life, and nowhere more important than in travel and transport and public spaces. Public transport networks and hubs are key for two reasons – they are targets, and they are the means of entry and exit for perpetrators of crime. As a result, we have become subject to heavy levels of surveillance, sometimes at great inconvenience in everyday life.
Security versus privacy
Public space surveillance camera systems have an essential role to play in keeping people safe. As a society, we have come to accept their presence. Roads, railways, bus stations, trams, tubes, ports and airports are all covered by an array of security and surveillance measures, each designed to discourage and prevent anti-social behaviour, theft and violent attacks.
The deployment of armed police officers at railway stations and in public space, unthinkable in the UK until a few years ago, and detection dogs are a more common sight. And security isn’t the sole domain of public sector services. The private sector plays an ever-growing part. Whether private or public sector providers, how do we know surveillance is measured and data management secure?
Surveillance camera technologies are at the forefront of the watching and gathering information aspects of security. The increased functionality of video analytic technology, ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) and facial recognition makes cameras an increasingly valuable tool. Improving image resolution, data capture and retrieval has made it a vital piece of protecting the travelling public, whilst ANPR has been integrated into cameras monitoring the road infrastructure.
Three years ago a survey by the British Security Industry Association concluded there were six million surveillance cameras operating in the UK. The increasing numbers of drones and body-worn cameras since then have likely doubled that number. Although proven to be excellent deterrents and means of data gathering, widening use means the scrutiny of personal data protection and personal privacy is all the more important. Maintaining a balance between the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens on the one hand and safeguarding the community on the other is at the heart of the Security Camera Commissioner’s (SCCs) strategy.
The SCC’s code of practice, a scheme against which organisations managing surveillance cameras in public spaces can benchmark themselves and be assessed, is designed to protect that balance. Its aim is to raise standards by enabling surveillance providers to benchmark themselves, encourage continual improvement strategies and ensure surveillance processes are robust and fit for purpose. This helps deliver public confidence in the presence, operation, purpose, and command and control of surveillance, whether by public or private sector organisations.
The range of security measures for travel and transport extend beyond surveillance. Increasingly, baggage search and screening technologies, familiar to air travellers, are being used to protect other environments. Vehicle tracking, automated gates and barriers, manned guarding and detector dogs too are becoming commonplace.
All of these services, as well as the design, installation, maintenance and monitoring of video surveillance systems, are increasingly being undertaken by third-party contractors, whilst working to the highest recognised standards of security and integrity is of the utmost importance. The latest NSI code of practice (NCP104), which is based on established standards and best practice, offers a structured approach where the design and installation of the video surveillance system is undertaken with the full engagement of client and users to ensure all specific needs are met.
Working to the appropriate standards, as tested within a corporate management framework, i.e. encompassing the integrity of directors, how the business itself is managed, including quality management, environment and health and safety, is the most stringent test of competence.
Ongoing verification of compliance through independent and effective auditing and assessment means service providers can signal their continuing commitment to maintaining integrity, developing technical capability and service delivery.
Together raising standards
Through UKAS-accredited independent third- party certification bodies, contractors demonstrate commitment to best practice set by industry experts in British Standards and industry codes of practice, and recognised public authorities, such as the Security Camera Commissioner and the Security Industry Authority.
Companies who seek to benchmark themselves against those codes and NSI approval schemes demonstrate commitment to the highest standards of competence in the delivery of CCTV, monitoring and security services.
These powerful examples of the public-private partnership in action result in surveillance methods keeping us all safer, and within a good governance framework signified by adherence to standards, are a price worth paying to exercise freedoms we hold dear.
Chief Executive, National Security Inspectorate