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Words Of Liberty

by msecadm4921

John Wadham of civil liberties group Liberty speaks to Una Riley.

I have wanted to catch up with John Wadham the Director of Liberty for some time since being the chairman of the CCTV section of the BSIA. Our first appointment had been for September 11 last year! It took some time to re-arrange but I eventually met him, and with Catherine Park of the BSIA we took time out to discuss various issues pertaining to the CCTV market and the issues that bothered him. "The first issue is that people who run or control CCTV are concerned to ensure that the system is being used for its purpose and not for anything else, such as following around shoppers and not concentrating on what they should be doing. Secondly is the degree of protection that exists to ensure that CCTV material is not used for any other purposes. We have a case pending in the Court of Human Rights involving a guy who was captured on a CCTV system waving a knife around. What was happening is that he was trying to cut his wrists and the police helped him and he started to put his life back together. A few months later his friends rang up and said they had seen him on the television trying to commit suicide. Obviously that was devastating for him. That is an example where the good use of CCTV to help someone and to protect them can actually be followed by a mistake. The local authority, newspaper and television programme should either have not put the programme out or should have ensured that he was not identifiable.’ We discussed the areas that might be addressed so that such a situation does not occur. John went on: ‘There are different issues, such as the extent to which there are proper controls of how the cameras work. For instance if you pan over someone’s back garden or pan into their living rooms. There again it is not about wicked and bad CCTV operators sat in a control room, it is trying to establish people’s genuine right to privacy is protected. I am sure that those people welcome the fact that the cameras are situated on their building in order that a burglar can be detected.’ I remarked that the Data Protection Act has gone a long way down the road to ensure that CCTV is installed for a specific purpose. John acknowledged the value of the Office of the Information Commissioner. "Obviously the DPA is very important and we very much welcome that. We were consulted on the code of practice et cetera. But we have a more general problem in the way that privacy is protected in this country. There are a lot of bits and pieces ‘ the DPA as well as something called the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and other measures which don’t start from the presumption that people have a right to privacy and that there should be exceptions to that. Obviously the investigation of crime should be exceptions. We would like to see, and something we will be working on in the next few years, is to say, OK let’s start again. Let’s have a ‘Privacy Act’ and let us accept that in fact people do have a right to privacy. We have to work together with all of the organisations in the industry to see what exceptions are necessary and what controls and remedy’s people have in order to ensure that the systems work. No matter how good or bad or effective CCTV is ‘ most people accept it nowadays. I think that it is important to get it to be used for the purposes of protecting people and protecting property and not allow it to be abused. If of course it does get abused then the industry is going to get a bad name and that can create problems.’ I think that everyone would agree with John on that point. It goes without saying, if we can work together towards those objectives then it is what the industry wants and has already started by way of the introduction of standards. This seemed an opportune time to ask if he would be interested in becoming involved in an academic forum – for want of a better title. "It seems to me that the only way that we can move forward to protect people’s human rights ‘ particularly in the context of privacy, is for us to be involved and working with other groups of people. To ensure that our views and the consumers are represented. We would be very happy to be involved with any forums which would ensure that we are moving forward to protect those rights and to take account of each others concerns.’ I was delighted and reinforced the fact that the industry addressed quality measures to ensure that the consumers of our product are assured of best service and this is yet another step towards that destination. I went on to explain that we had met with Prof Martin Gill of the Scarman Centre and that he was on board for this specialised forum. The intention is to also get a representative from the Information Commissioner’s Office and a few other significant people. We went on to discuss prospective research projects that might evolve from such a union, then I asked about the workings of Liberty. Basically, the team have a policy that responds to government issues which have implications for human rights and civil liberties. They also submit evidence to Select Committees in Parliament. They undertake funded research. All policy papers are drafted either by Liberty staff or by the many barristers that work on a pro bono basis. Overall responsibility for Liberty’s policy lies with the elected Council. Policy changes of major significance are formally debated by the members. I asked John what he thought of the idea of the wider police family, a subject that I had been discussing with Molly Meacher of the Security Industry Authority(featured last month). "We are very concerned about the potential dilution of quality and security of policing that is happening. The government is trying to buy police officers on the cheap. The police reform bill is not going to spend as much time training. These people are not going to be accountable but they will have police powers. We are also concerned about local authorities and the need to ensure that there is a distinction from those people that have particular powers like police officers, compared to those in the private security sector. There is a real danger that in the direction we are going it muddies the process up. People wandering around with uniforms ‘ who are they and who are they responsible to and who is paying them’ Therefore, we feel there is some work to do.’ It is clear that in many respects Liberty and the security industry have the same mission. The Guild of Security Professionals motto springs to mind: ‘Res Homines Libertates’ (People, Property, and Liberty).

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