Audio-enabled CCTV Privacy Row Rages On

Campaign Group Big Brother Watch calls upon Oxford City Council to scrap plans to implement audio-enabled CCTV in taxis, following recent court ruling

The civil liberties organisation, Big Brother Watch, has re-issued its calls for Oxford City Council to scrap its plan to introduce CCTV audio-enabled cameras into taxicabs in the city.

The plans were due to be implemented by April 2015, but there has been fresh opposition to them in light of a recent court ruling. A judge at Southampton Crown Court stated that, “it was not reasonably necessary to install audio cameras on a permanent basis in all taxis in Southampton.” Paragraph 71 of the ruling in the case of Southampton City Council versus Kevin May stated, “The condition does not correspond to a pressing social need, is not proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and is not necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country.”

Following this judgment, the Director of Big Brother Watch, Nick Pickles, wrote to Oxford City Council, urging them to “abandon this invasive and unlawful policy without delay.” He commented, “I have written highlighting this ruling because the policy it lays out is very clear – such plans are unlawful, disproportionate and a clear violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

He went on to add that it would be “reckless for the Council to pursue such a policy, when it would clearly leave them open to legal challenges, as has been the case in Southampton. In times of spending constraints, this would needlessly put taxpayers’ money at risk.”

Oxford City Council claimed when the proposals were first made that they were concerned solely with the safety of both taxi drivers and passengers, following alleged assaults, mainly arising from arguments about fares in the city.

The Council’s plans have provoked mixed reactions amongst the student population in Oxford. One second year Geography student reflected, “Although they are run by private firms, taxis are, to a certain extent, a public entity – so if the installation of CCTV cameras increases safety, I can’t see that it’s a bad thing. What are people trying to hide?”

However, a second year Law student disagreed, saying, “It seems to me that there is little evidence to support the council’s plans; and now that this ruling has taken place in Southampton, it could set a precedent for similar cases, which might leave Oxford City Council in a tricky situation.’

A spokesman for Oxford City Council said that, in light of the developments, “We need to take the time to consider the ruling before we can make any decision regarding plans to introduce CCTV in taxis.”

source: http://www.cherwell.org/news/town/2011/12/06/privacy-row-rages-on

Southampton taxi boss will fight on over spy cameras

Kevin May in his taxi

A TAXI boss has vowed to continue his fight against compulsory spy cameras in cabs after a judge found they were “unlawful” but said that he could not overturn the council’s policy.

A civil liberties watchdog last night joined the calls for the “taxicam” policy to be binned but Southampton City Council insisted that the controversial  CCTV cameras, which record images and all conversations, were vital for the safety of passengers and drivers.

The cameras cannot be switched off, even when cabbies are using their cars for personal reasons.

Cab firm boss Kevin May, who has paid out £30,000 to challenge the cameras in the courts, said that he was considering a judicial review after the council won an appeal over a district judge’s  ruling against the cameras.

He said: “I’ve been vindicated. The council won on a legal technicality. The council has brought in something that two judges have said is unlawful.”

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, described it as absurd that the city council was pressing ahead with the cameras.

He said: “Recording every conversation in the back of taxis treats everyone as a criminal but does not make anyone safer.

“Southampton council should listen to the court and to the public and abandon this policy without delay.”

Mr May argued the surveillance from the cameras invaded the right to privacy for both the driver and passengers.

He accused the council of wasting taxpayers’ money by subsidising their installation and said that there would be calls for compensation from the trade.

The cameras cost up to £700 each, of which cabbies have to pay about £300.

About 450 of the 1,000 hackney carriages and private hire cars in Southampton have the cameras installed, which two years ago became a licensing condition.

Recorder Stewart Patterson, sitting at Salisbury Crown Court, said that he had no jurisdiction to overturn the camera policy but if he had, he would have found it was “not lawful”.

The judgement said: “It was not reasonably necessary to install audio cameras on a permanent basis in all taxis in Southampton to pursue the council aims of preventing crime and disorder and improving safety.”

It added that the recording of every conservation was “invasive”, “disproportionate”

and a “violation” of article 8 of the Human Rights Act, the right to privacy.

Recorder Patterson added that an application to the High Court for a judicial review was the right way to challenge the policy.

Council leader Councillor Royston Smith said last night: “I am still waiting for the official court judgement. However if it is the case that our appeal has been successful it is a victory for the  safety of drivers and passengers in taxis in the city and the wider country.”

source: http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/

Watchdog called in after taxi CCTV complaint

THE UK’s data watchdog is investigating a complaint about controversial moves to record all conversations in Oxford’s taxis.

The Information Commissioner said it had received a complaint from a member of the public over Oxford City Council’s plans.

It follows an outcry over the scheme, which council chiefs and taxi leaders say is vital to protect drivers from attacks and allegations.

A civil liberties group said the cameras – which have to be in all 662 taxis by March 2015 – are an invasion of privacy.

They would record video and sound as soon as the key is turned in the ignition and for 30 minutes after it is switched off.

Footage would only be accessed by a council officer or police when investigating specific allegations.

Commissioner spokesman Greg Jones said: “We have received a complaint and are making inquiries.”

He said councils “must take account of people’s right to privacy” and take measures “proportionate” to safety concerns.

Council spokesman Louisa Dean said: “We have had an inquiry from the Information Commissioner who wishes to better understand the CCTV scheme.

“We are happy to assist in those inquiries.”

Alan Woodward, general secretary of the City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Cab Association, has stepped down after 16 years.

He cited the row and “personal reasons” for his decision.

Mr Woodward, who backs the CCTV scheme, said: “The drivers don’t seem to know what they want. They need to make up their mind.”

source: http://www.oxfordtimes.co.uk/

Wycombe may look at CCTV in taxis in future

A SCHEME in Oxford to put cameras in taxis which will record sound and video will be followed “with great interest” by Wycombe council officials.

However, Wycombe District Council said it does not see the need for such a move right now.

The proposal has sparked a civil liberties debate nationally, with claims it would be an invasion of privacy.

All conversations in Oxford taxis will be recorded and video footage taken from the moment the key is turned in the ignition.

Officials say it will provide evidence of attacks by passengers or driver misconduct, when allegations are made.

Asked if the idea has been discussed or considered, Wycombe District Council said in a statement: “We’re aware of the announcement made by Oxford and we’ll watch the progress of the scheme with interest.

“However, for now, we do not see the need for such a scheme here in Wycombe.

“If Oxford experience great success, we may look at the idea in the future, but for now, we have no plans to follow in their footsteps.”

Wycombe Private Hire Trade Association Director Zia Ullah said there is a serious long-standing problem in the area with drivers being attacked and abused.

Taxi driver Mohammed Mahroof was killed in May 2007.

In the last week there have been four separate attacks on drivers, five attempted thefts and a “plethora” of racial abuse, which has become a daily occurrence, Mr Ullah said.

He said: “It’s something that has been looked at, not just for customer safety but for drivers.”

But despite many “diabolical” situations Mr Ullah said: “It’s not something we are looking at rolling out, certainly not in the near future.

“Perhaps at the tail end of next year if the cost and feasibility were right.”

Currently, costs are highly prohibitive.

Attempts to pursue passengers who have attacked or abused drivers – either in civil or criminal cases – have been repeatedly unsuccessful.

“The evidence that some of these cameras capture is something we need in court proceedings, so it makes sense in that light,” he said.

The association includes 485 taxi drivers in the WDC area. There are over 1,500 taxi drivers in total.

WDC said any attacks on its drivers are investigated by its licensing team alongside Thames Valley Police.

Both bodies adopt a zero tolerance approach to protect drivers and also to stop unlicensed drivers and cars operating in the district, it said.

WDC is launching a mobile phone application to enable passengers to check if a taxi is licensed.

source: http://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/

Shrewsbury taxi drivers back safety camera plan

Calls have been made for CCTV to be installed in all Shrewsbury taxis to improve driver safety and potentially save council bosses ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds’ on legal fees.

The Shrewsbury Drivers Action Group today said CCTV cameras should be installed in more than 600 Hackney Carriages across the Shrewsbury area to help settle disputes and increase the safety of drivers.

It comes as Oxford City Council agreed for controversial video monitoring to be fitted to all 650 of its black cab and private hire taxis at a cost of £260,000.

Richard Price, chairman of Shrewsbury Drivers Action Group, said the matter would be brought up at their next meeting and could then be raised with Shropshire Council.

He said: “I think it is an excellent idea. Some cabs have the big screens separating the driver from the customer but the majority of them are saloon cars and don’t have that. Ninety-nine point nine per cent of customers are really excellent but you’ve always got the odd one.

“I’ve only had three serious incidents in over 20 years but they have involved a broken bottle and a knife so it only takes one incident. You could say I’m lucky to be sitting here today so anything that would look to improve driver safety I would call for.”

Experts also said far too much money was wasted by councils on legal fees and court proceedings which the introduction of CCTV would drastically reduce.

Patrick Nolan, a licensing consultant living in Shrewsbury, said: “We have noticed a lot of allegations of sexual offences against drivers more recently and these sorts of things would be easily sorted by the introduction of CCTV.

“It is a brilliant way to solve disputes.

“It is also something which could save the local authority hundreds of thousands of pounds in the long-run on legal fees and prosecutions. Overnight it could reduce their fees.

“Shrewsbury should do as Oxford has done as long as an independent data controller is in place to handle information.”

The cameras would record every conversation that took place in a taxi cab and footage gathered would be kept for 28 days. It would only be accessed in the case of a police investigation.

Lynne Towers, Shropshire Council’s public health and safety manager, said there were currently no plans in their budget to install CCTV across all taxis in Shrewsbury.

source: http://www.shropshirestar.com/

Oxford taxi conversations to be recorded, council rules

Campaigners have called Oxford City Council’s decision to record all conversations in taxis “a staggering invasion of privacy”.

By April 2015 it will be mandatory for all of the city’s 600 plus cabs to have cameras fitted to record passengers.

The council said the cameras would run continuously, but only view footage relating to police matters would be reviewed.

Big Brother Watch said it was “a total disregard for civil liberties”.

Video and audio

The civil liberties campaign group intends to complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over the scheme, which includes both black cabs and private-hire vehicles.

An ICO spokeswoman said the plans were “highly intrusive and unlikely to be justified”.

She added: “Licensing authorities must take account of people’s right to privacy when deciding whether to impose CCTV as a licence condition for taxi drivers.”

A council spokeswoman said the “video and audio would run all the time within the vehicle”.

She said police would only locate footage, stored on a CCTV hard drive for 28 days, if it was needed for a police investigation.

She added: “The risk of intrusion into private conversations has to be balanced against the interests of public safety, both of passengers and drivers.”

Big Brother Watch director Nick Pickles said: “Given that one rail route to Witney [David Cameron’s constituency] is through Oxford, we’ll be letting the prime minister know that his staff might want to avoid using Oxford cabs.”

The necessary equipment must be installed by taxi drivers licensed for the first time by 6 April 2012. A panic button must also be fitted.

Cabs already registered will have until April 2015 to get the kit fitted, the council said.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-15720998

Comment

I don’t normally comment on articles put on the NTA website, but I would draw our readers attention to the following link graphically highlighting the problems faced each day by cab drivers across the country.

http://www.national-taxi-association.co.uk/?cat=19

Oxford cabbies accept mandatory CCTV will now happen.

Strike action threatened by Oxford cab drivers over the introduction of CCTV cameras in their cars is unlikely, a driver’s union said last night. The move to introduce a pair of CCTV cameras into the back of all cabs has been rubber-stamped by Oxford City Council’s general purposes licensing committee.

The decision will mean all drivers taking up new licences will have until March to install cameras. Existing taxi drivers – both private hire and hackney cabs – will have until March 2015 to fit the £460 system. Taxi drivers will have to pay for the system, which is being introduced to improve driver and passenger safety.

Despite previous threats of strike action and a town hall demonstration held in March by the private hire drivers association over the cost and a belief customers would not welcome the cameras, private hire taxi firms backed the council.

Aaron Singh, manager of St Aldate’s firm 001, said: “It’s obviously an added fee on top of what drivers are already paying out at the moment, but in terms of safety it’s going to help keep drivers and passengers safe. “And if somebody accuses somebody of something it will provide some evidence when it’s one person’s word against another.” But he admitted: “I think there is a mixed feeling within the drivers.” He said none of the firm’s drivers wanted strike action.

Qasim Mohammed, of Royal Cars, said: “If the driver or the passenger gets injured it gives the police an easy lead to follow up.” Ghafoor Khan, chairman of the private hire drivers’ association, who in the past said 80 per cent of his union were against the cameras, declined to comment.

But some hackney cab drivers reacted with anger to the decision. Hackney cab owner and driver Bashir Ahmed, of Cowley, who has driven a cab for 22 years, said: “This has been forced on us without a proper consultation with the drivers. “Should your camera not be working you will be off the road.”

Gulzar Hussain, a hackney cab driver from Cowley, said: “We don’t need it. It’s a safe city, there’s no violence or fighting.” But City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Association secretary Alan Woodward said the CCTV system would protect drivers. He added: “Drivers won’t go on strike, I don’t think. They are all self employed – they would be shooting themselves in the foot.

“We’ve had quite a few false complaints against drivers and we feel we need to be armed with the correct tools to represent them when something like that happens. Some drivers were initially upset, but if you speak to the night-time drivers they say ‘I would feel safer with CCTV’. “We’ve negotiated that price down so that the council’s requirements of the system is reduced.”

Taxis get CCTV to catch fare dodgers

TAXIS in Cardiff are to be fitted with CCTV as drivers complain the public are dodging fares.

The annual general meeting of the Union of Taxi Drivers (UTD) was told last night by members that passengers, mostly late-night revellers, continued to avoid paying.

Passengers “doing a runner” or going into their homes promising to pay and not re-emerging was commonplace, it was claimed.

Now an initial trial involving a small number of cars will see them fitted with two inward-facing cameras and an interactive HD TV screen advertising coming attractions in Cardiff. Installations will begin in the next fortnight.

The CCTV will be live as soon as the engine is switched on until 10 minutes after it is switched off and all footage will be downloaded to an external hard drive.

Drivers are being offered the £1,000 system fully insured for free.

The system – already installed in New York and Shanghai and endorsed by Cardiff council – is being offered by Robert Wong of Info-Cabs.

Mr Wong, a former taxi driver, plans to make money from companies advertising on the TV screen inside the car.

Mr Wong said: “It is constantly recording to a hard drive for passenger safety and the safety of the taxi driver.

“It is an ideal way for passengers to find out where to go and what to do.

“And people seeing you have CCTV will reduce the amount of assault, runners, people being violent and causing damage to your vehicle straight away by 75%.”

At a meeting attended by more than 50 members, many drivers said often when they reported fare-dodging to police they were told it was a “civil” matter.

But South Wales Police’s Nick Bellamy said civil matters only arose where passengers had a genuine grievance with the size of the fare or service provided.

He endorsed taxi drivers’ calls for the loss of their livelihood to be taken seriously.

Sergeant Bellamy said: “The only way we are going to do it is by educating other officers who don’t know the law.

“We want you to continue your service and we are committed to helping.”

Abdi Ahmed was re-elected as chairman of the UTD during the meeting.

Read More http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

Southampton taxi drivers protest over cameras in cabs

IT was like something out of Wacky Races.

Horns beeped and engines roared as up to 70 taxi cabs and private hire vehicles circled Southampton’s Civic Centre in protest for more than half an hour.

Yesterday’s demonstration was organised after the city council vowed to appeal a legal challenge where a judge ruled in favour of a taxi boss’s claim that CCTV surveillance in cabs infringes rights to privacy.

The council, in 2009 the first in England to make cameras in licensed cars compulsory, said it respected the right to protest but will still appeal the ruling.

The move has angered drivers across the city who feel the £700 cameras, which operate 24/7 and cannot be turned off, are an infringement of their privacy.

The council is also using licence fees paid by the drivers to appeal against the ruling.

Perry McMillan, 52, chairman of the Southampton cab section of the Unite union, said: “The cameras are an infringement on our privacy. They record video and sound regardless of whether I’m taking my wife to the shops or driving with a customer.

“I also think it is disgraceful that the council is using licence fee money to fund their appeal in a time of cuts.”

But council bosses believe the cameras are vital in ensuring the safety of both drivers and customers. Last night a council spokesman said: “Taxi drivers and passengers have a right to both feel and be safe in licensed vehicles in the city. The council’s decision to impose the need to have a camera on every new licensed vehicle is still considered to be reasonable and in the public’s and trade’s interest and we will continue with our appeal of the magistrates’ court’s decision.”

But Kevin May, a director of Radio Taxis, the city’s largest taxi proprietor, said: “We wanted to show the council that we won’t back down.”

source: http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/9009977 … r_cameras/

Judge backs taxi boss in dispute over ‘spy’ cameras in Southampton

A TAXI boss has won his test case against “big brother” spy cameras in cabs.

Kevin May triumphed in his legal battle against Southampton City Council’s requirement to fit digital security cameras that record images and conversations in his taxis.

It could pave the way for around 300 other Hackney carriage and private hire taxis with the cameras already fitted to follow suit, while more than 400 who are yet to install the devices might not need to.

Southampton City Council has vowed to appeal, saying cameras ensure higher safety levels for both passengers and drivers.

Mr May, the city’s largest taxi owner and a director of the biggest firm Radio Taxis, argued the licensing rule breached Article 8 of Human Rights Act.

He said this was because the compulsory CCTV surveillance invaded both the driver and the passenger’s right to privacy.

In 2009 the city council became one of the first councils in England bring in a compulsory requirement for cameras in cabs.

Cabbies cannot switch off the cameras, which cost £700 to install, even when they are using them for family or personal reasons.

But district judge Anthony Callaway ruled the CCTV policy showed “insufficient regard to the respective rights of both passengers and drivers”.

And while he said cameras could curb crime, this alone did not show “pressing social need” for them.

Source: http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/