Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Searching for the Surveillance Camera Commissioner

Did you know that Britain has a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Criminal Information?

I didn’t either – until I glanced at a recent Home Office note which announced that Lord Taylor of Holbeach has recently laid a written statement in the House of Lords about the regulatory framework for surveillance camera systems and a code of practice.

I came across this politician as I was searching for more information about our new Surveillance Camera Commissioner. And I was surprised that the Government’s own website contains significantly more information about Lord Taylor than about Andrew Rennison.

Given that Andrew Rennison’s appointment as the Surveillance Camera Commissioner was announced on 13 September 2012, I thought that by now his staff might have created a website explaining just who he was and what he does.

Nine months later, we are still awaiting the launch of this website. Or if it exists, it is not indexed very well.

Does it matter? 

Well, given the public interest in issues relating to surveillance, you might have thought that his office would have given the Commissioner a more visible presence on the internet. 

Is he a very busy Commissioner? Other than occasionally reviewing the Code of Practice for Surveillance Camera Systems, he’s probably got more than enough on his hands with his other job – that of Forensic Science Regulator. A website containing news about that side of his business life is up and running. 

But what should we expect from someone whose surveillance responsibilities can be measured in terms of a budget of £500,000?  Well, at least a basic website.  Perhaps not a wizzy one, chock full of interesting details of life as a Surveillance Camera Commissioner, or an analysis of how the British public view these technologies, compared with other EU citizens. But, perhaps, one containing advice about the relevant operational, technical, quality management and occupational competency standards which are available for a system operator. And, indeed, what his thoughts on Google Glass might be. But something, surely. 

If you fancy following him on Twitter, look out for his muses on @fsrscc. His last tweet was on 23 April though – so I don’t think this is his favoured method of communication. I can’t say I blame him. I don’t tweet either. Presumably, his 115 followers think that 16 tweets this year is sufficient news about his activities. 

Interestingly, he has no enforcement or inspection powers. Instead, he is required to encourage compliance with the Code of Practice by considering: “how best to ensure that relevant authorities are aware of their duty to have regard for the Code and how best to encourage its voluntary adoption by other operators of surveillance camera systems.”

Evidently, the Surveillance Commissioner and the Information Commissioner will be expected to play a role in taking appropriate action against those who flout the usual standards. Will this concept of “enforcement by another regulator” be effective? We will only know in the fullness of time. 

Anyway, what can I do to ensure that the data protection community gets to know him a little better? I can start by inviting him to a forthcoming meeting of the Data Protection Forum and the National Association of Data protection Officers, to give him a public platform where the most pressing issues on his agenda can be explored by professionals who are keen to understand just what it is that concerns him. 

Once I unearth his contact details, that is.


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