Print 9 comment(s) - last by martin5000.. on Jul 29 at 12:21 PM

Southampton region is disallowed to record taxi passengers' conversations

Located in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England, Southampton/Portsmouth is home to over a million UK citizens.  In 2009, the Southampton Council passed an initiative to roll out a massive amount of CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras, claiming that by monitoring citizens, the region could reduce crime.

I. ICO Comes Down Hard on CCTV Recording of Conversations

The plan was particularly shocking on the surface -- after all London deployed CCTV cameras to virtually every street corner in a similar controversial bid.  But the particularly disturbing aspect of the Southampton surveillance was that the region ordered all taxis to install cameras inside that were equipped with audio recording equipment to record all conversations by both passengers and drivers.

England's Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), a national privacy regulatory body, just completed its review [PDF] of that controversial practice, and has ordered an end to the recordings, which it says constitute a gross violation of privacy.

Taxi Southampton
Taxis in Southampton were equipped with monitoring equipment that recorded drivers and passengers' every word. [Image Source: Your Meal Ticket UK]

Commissioner Christopher Graham writes, "By requiring taxi operators to record all conversations and images while the vehicles are in use, Southampton City Council have gone too far."

"We recognise the Council’s desire to ensure the safety of passengers and drivers but this has to be balanced against the degree of privacy that most people would reasonably expect in the back of a taxi cab. It is only right that the privacy of drivers and passengers is respected.  This is particularly important as many drivers will use their vehicles outside work."

The city has until November 1 to comply with the order to remove the cameras.

The Oxford City Council, which governs another district in southern England, recently had its plans for a similar scheme shot down by Commissioner Graham and ICO.  That ruling mirrored the Southampton decision, and Oxford has since cancelled its plans to implement the program.

Commissioner Graham writes that he hopes that other city councils across the UK take note and don't stubbornly try to hoist similar proposals.  He writes, "We hope this action sends a clear message to local authorities that they must properly consider all the legal obligations on them before requiring the installation of CCTV or similar equipment and that audio recording should be very much the exception, rather than the rule."

II. Advocates in U.S., UK Argue Citizens Should Sacrifice Freedoms for Safety

ICO has had little tolerance for CCTV systems that record private conversations, including phone calls.  It says such acts constitute violations of the UK's Data Protection Act of 1998.

Britain has long struggled under the spectre of government surveillance.  

Big brother eye
Surveillance advocates argue freedoms may need to be seized in the name of promoting safety, but they remain hopeful citizens will give them up willingly. [Image Source: listal]

Of course studies have disagreed on whether the cameras truly reduce crime.

Some proponents of the monitoring criticize ICO's track record, saying it’s wasting taxpayer money with pro-privacy crackdowns.  However, the amount spent will likely be eclipsed by the savings to local regions of scrapping expensive CCTV systems/plans.

The UK's CCTV system will be under the spotlight at the London Olympics, but fortunately it won't be allowed inside taxicabs, recording visitors' conversations.
In fact it was English author George Orwell who coined the phrase "Big Brother is watching you" in his seminal 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

That said, there are many powerful politicians in England today who argue that "playing Big Brother" is worth it, as a means of stomping out the criminal element.  Like their counterparts in the U.S., they such citizens must sacrifice their freedoms for safety.

Source: ICO [PDF]

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By Isidore on 7/26/2012 2:04:04 PM , Rating: 3
Jason, we have no 'federal' authorities in the UK. It is a kingdom not a federation. I am certainly worried about safety. Safety from intrusive and invasive surveillance. What next? Thought Police? The Governments of the one time 'liberal democracies' are making a very serious landgrab on the freedom of the individual. If it's not recording speech it will be facial recognition and no doubt soon after lip reading. What is driving this? An overinflated fear of terrorism? More people die in car accidents by far than due to terrorism yet we don't overturn the fundemental principles of personal freedom as a result. We all need to wake up.

RE: Federal?
By martin5000 on 7/27/2012 5:40:30 AM , Rating: 2
To their credit, the current government has reversed a lot of Labours privacy invading ideas; id card scheme scraped, council investigative powers reduced, stupid pentalties for things like over filling your bin scraped, speed cameras off, cctv removed in places, etc.

RE: Federal?
By Adonlude on 7/27/2012 2:24:28 PM , Rating: 2
There is no more freedom in the UK. Here are 1,207 reasons why the authorities can enter your home in the UK:
There's a reason us Americans took up arms and left, unfortunately we are loosing much of what we fought for and are heading right down the path of the UK.

RE: Federal?
By Adonlude on 7/27/2012 2:46:30 PM , Rating: 2
I actually looked up some of the funnier UK powers of entry:
Gov can enter your property if your shrubs are too high:
Gov can enter your property to check for weeds in your garden:
Gov can enter your house to demand to see your horses passport:
Gov can enter your house to inspect for Bluetongue virus:
Gov can enter your house to check the health of your fish:

Some of this stuff is just laughable!!! UK is long gone. Good thing their Gov't totally disarmed the populace some decade ago.

RE: Federal?
By martin5000 on 7/29/2012 12:19:47 PM , Rating: 2
American's are so odd how they think their freedom is because they have guns. A government that had a policy of legalising guns in the UK would be extremely unpopular.

Also, other than police catching proper criminals is the only reason I've ever heard of a home entry.

Remember in the USA "jaywalking" is an offence, yet you think you're free because you can buy a semi automatic rifle rather than just a single shot like in the UK, you're mad!

RE: Federal?
By martin5000 on 7/29/2012 12:21:00 PM , Rating: 2
There's a reason us Americans took up arms and left

You're ignorance is quite astonishing!

By AnnihilatorX on 7/26/2012 1:48:32 PM , Rating: 3
That said, there are many powerful politicians in England today who argue that "playing Big Brother" is worth it, as a means of stomping out the criminal element. Like their counterparts in the U.S., they such citizens must sacrifice their freedoms for safety.

Safety from whom? Terrorists? Soon government is the one to fear.
I think these dystopian politicians should just move to North Korea. Crime rate is pretty much zero there.

RE: Safety
By xthetenth on 7/26/2012 3:26:19 PM , Rating: 2
I'd think there'd be a lot of food theft in North Korea. Starvation tends to do that.

Not a simple issue
By Tony Swash on 7/27/2012 6:58:25 AM , Rating: 2
I don't like being filmed or recorded but I also feel safer in areas that have CCTV. Getting the balance right is difficult. I do think any CCTV data access should be governed by rigorous rules.

The CCTV in taxi issue is a complex one because the main reason, as far as I can see, that there is a push to install CCTV in taxis is to deter and arrest passengers who racially abuse the drivers. In most towns in the UK taxis drivers are foreign, often immigrants and many are from the Indian sub-continent. Racist abuse of taxi drivers, especially late at night by groups of drunk passengers, is far too common and very difficult to prove. It's very nasty and a, thankfully small, minority of retards think that threatening and sometimes actually attacking ethnic minority drivers is good fun, often such passengers will run off without paying. Getting them on film is good in my opinion and the fact they are on film does seem to reduce such hate crimes.

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