Public faces mass invasion of privacy as big data and surveillance merge

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The privacy of the public is at risk of being invaded on a mass scale without its consent as the collection of big data meshes with proliferation of video surveillance, the government’s CCTV watchdog has warned.

Launching a new three-year strategy, the surveillance camera commissioner, Tony Porter, admitted that regulators and the government were struggling to keep up with the pace of technological change.

He said he was alarmed by the way overt surveillance from CCTV, body cameras and drones could become even more invasive than intended as captured images of people are brought together with advances in facial recognition and then compared against other monitored data about individuals and their movements.

“What most worries me is the impact of big data and integration of video surveillance,” said Porter, a former senior counter-terrorism officer who has just been reappointed for a second three-year term as surveillance camera commissioner.

As an example, he warned that the Metropolitan police was playing “fast and loose” with citizens’ data by its failure to delete number-plate records beyond a two-year limit.

The database of millions of vehicle number plate records has been retained since the London Olympics in 2012. Porter told the Guardian: “The problem with the Olympic feed is that it has continued in perpetuity. It moved from being a pilot in the Olympic Games to a position that is now untenable. The police need to review why they are retaining that data and get rid of it.”

He pointed out that police have the power to retain number-plate records for two years, but said it was open to legal challenge by retaining data beyond this limit. “To retain into 2017 without giving evidence and grounds is questionable. There needs to be a very close look at that. And my understanding is that the police are doing that. The danger of delay is that you have a state body that is prepared to play fast and loose with the retention of citizens’ data when there is no requirement.”

Porter’s new strategy, published on Tuesday, points out that an overwhelming majority of people currently support the use of CCTV in public places. But he questions whether this support can continue because of the way surveillance is changing.

“I’m worried about overt surveillance becoming much more invasive because it is linked to everything else,” Porter said. “You might have a video photograph of somebody shopping in Tesco. Now it is possible to link that person to their pre-movements, their mobile phone records, any sensor detectors within their house or locality. As smart cities move forward, these are challenges are so much greater for people like myself. And members of the public need to decide whether they are still happy with this.”

He added: “The nightmare scenario is that there is a lack of understanding about how big and effective this can be. This technology is there to protect us, but there needs to be informed consent about what it is capable of doing. Body-worn video, for example, or facial recognition – that can identify people on databases who didn’t know they were on databases.”

Porter conceded that advances in technology such as drones have helped police solve crimes and hunt for missing people. But he added: “Surveillance cameras are becoming much more integrated into the internet … The problem is when new and advancing technology is brought together by well-meaning people that actually invades people’s privacy, or worse, leaves privacy at risk of theft or uploading on YouTube.”

Porter said part of his new strategy would set a “tripwire” to warn authorities about the privacy impact of new technology.

In recent weeks Porter has expressed alarm about the proliferation of body-worn video, notably in hospitals, and by the way the security contractor G4S was using it in the homes of asylum seekers without their consent.

Porter said there was mounting evidence that body-worn video was being used without sufficient regard to privacy. He gave the example of an unnamed local authority which pointed a CCTV camera on to a resident’s front door, then compounded the error by dispatching a council officer equipped with a body-worn video to apologise for the misplaced camera.

Porter urged authorities to follow his code of practice, which insists that surveillance cameras should only be used if there is pressing public need.

This article was sourced from http://creekbendnews.com