Jul 252012
 
 July 25, 2012  Non-U.S., Surveillance

I had covered a controversial plan in Oxford to record taxi passengers (audio and video).  While media attention was focused on Oxford City Council, apparently another council had gone ahead with the plan.  Until now. From the Information Commissioner’s Office:

Southampton City Council has been ordered to stop the mandatory recording of passengers’ and drivers’ conversations in the city’s taxis, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced today.

Since August 2009, the council has required all taxis and private hire vehicles to install CCTV equipment to constantly record images and the conversations of both drivers and passengers.

The ICO has ruled the council’s policy breaches the Data Protection Act, concluding that the recording of all conversations is disproportionate given the very low number of incidents occurring compared to the number of trouble free taxi journeys. An enforcement notice has been issued to the council who now have until 1 November to comply.

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

“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. While CCTV can be used in taxis, local authorities must be sensible about the extent to which they mandate its use, particularly when audio recording is involved.”

The ICO has recently investigated a similar policy that was proposed by Oxford City Council. The ICO took preliminary enforcement action stating that the recording of passengers’ and drivers’ conversations in the city’s taxis would breach the Data Protection Act. The council have now suspended the implementation of the policy.

The Commissioner continued:

“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.”

The Data Protection Act states that organisations can only collect personal data when it is fair and lawful to do so. For CCTV equipment in taxis, the ICO advises that images should only be recorded where it is clearly justifiable. Audio recordings should only be made on very rare occasions, for example where there are a high number of serious incidents and where recording is triggered due to a specific threat in a taxi cab.

A copy of today’s enforcement notice served to the council can be found on the ICO’s Taking action page.

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