Some reflections on iLegal 2009
November 2009, CCTV, Surveillance
The 2009 iLegal conference highlighted a number of legal issues in the use of CCTV. However, it is clear that many of the issues are not simple legal questions but are related to issues of CCTV best practice, respect for privacy, and labour relations.
The law around telecommunications is evolving rapidly and is going have a major impact in the next 12 months, but for the moment we should mainly be concerned about getting the basics right, including specification of systems, installation, management, technical developments, and labour and human rights. While end users and installers are concerned about the operations they are involved in, it is also clear that the police and justice systems also need input to facilitate processes involving CCTV.
A general and repeated trend across all presentations at iLegal 2009 is that systems have to produce video material that is useful for evidence purposes. While this is not new and has been highlighted in the UK National CCTV Strategy, Mick Neville made the point that many cameras do not suit their assigned purpose of gathering information. Director De Klerk emphasised that this is just as much of an issue in South Africa as the UK. Put simply, in many cases people expect cameras to do everything and they end up doing nothing. The need for users to clearly define a purpose for cameras and then ensure the cameras are capable of carrying this out is still one of the central challenges in CCTV implementation.
The role of proactive surveillance was highlighted as a critical component in successful detection. Combined with intelligence information, this can be a powerful method to detect criminals and take them off the streets or factory floors. It also aligns the camera usage and views with the evidence needs if an operator is using a camera effectively. Where proactive surveillance does not deliver, however, the conference inputs highlighted the potential of a dedicated and focused identification process using CCTV video. This can substantially increase the potential for follow up arrests with the involvement of police. Either way, the lesson that comes out of this is that CCTV needs to be actively managed to produce results.
Mick Neville identified the fascination with technology as opposed to getting the human element right. No matter what kind of system you have, the operator is still the most important part of your system. Identifying the right people and giving the right kind of training in detection will make the difference between systems that work and those that do not. For me, a critical aspect of CCTV is the potential for detection. It is pointless if one has a highly expensive smoothly performing system that does not deliver detection of incidents. Indeed, this kind of lack of delivery has the potential to severely damage the reputation of CCTV and expenditure on it as expectations are not lived up to.
The fact that retrieving evidence from systems is critical once it is obtained came through repeatedly. A strong recommendation was to ensure that a designated person who knows the system has the sole responsibility to implement this retrieval of data. The importance of procedure in this process was emphasised to maintain the reliability of the evidence – the trail of evidence handling needs to be clearly and accurately documented to assist with successful prosecution. Having a system that is capable of providing a format that would facilitate easy viewing of the file for investigation, and in court, was identified a number of times as being critical.
Clinton Vigne took this even further when highlighting that taking equipment to show the relevant evidence to court can further ease the presentation of evidence to relevant parties. Companies tend to think their responsibilities are over when they deliver the evidence in some electronic form to the police. They may need to reconsider this, as conditions both here and the UK show that the capacity to effectively play such evidence in court is often severely restricted. If a CCTV system is purchased, one needs to ensure that the system can deliver a manageable display of evidence from the site to the court if you are going to be successful.
The role of investigations is likely to be an increasing one with CCTV. This goes beyond investigators using CCTV footage to get some facts. Investigators in South Africa are increasingly going to have to collect, arrange, and deliver a package of reliable and credible evidence to police to ensure effective prosecution. The more they can do this, the greater likelihood of a successful prosecution.
It is clear that in the near future, organisations are going to pay more attention to the administration and control of CCTV. Having a clear CCTV policy, code of conduct, CCTV use in employee agreements, and having procedures drawn up and in place to regulate the behaviour and actions of operators are all likely to be more demanding. Maintaining procedural integrity to safeguard evidence is one aspect of this. However, these code and procedural guidelines will also assist in limiting the liability of the organisation to potential issues regarding CCTV.
The ongoing development of technology is also going to raise a number of crucial issues. As security becomes increasingly linked to IT and telecommunication sectors the legislation from those areas will impact on CCTV practice. There is also an increasing move to remote surveillance functions. More recently I have had discussions with a company based in India which wants to provide a remote surveillance function to companies based in the UK. Another company is setting up arrangements where volunteers from around the world can view live streaming video footage on the Internet for clients in the UK, with the benefits of a bonus for detection being provided.
Where do these kinds of developments leave the legal responsibility for evidence? One thing is clear, the legal environment affecting CCTV is only going to become more complex.
Dr Craig Donald is a human factors specialist in security and CCTV. He is a director of Leaderware which provides instruments for the selection of CCTV operators, X-ray screeners and other security personnel in major operations around the world. He also runs CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language, and Advanced Surveillance Body Language courses for CCTV operators, supervisors and managers internationally, and consults on CCTV management. He can be contacted on +27 (0)11 787 7811 or firstname.lastname@example.org