Nowra Public Safety CCTV System Switched Back On
by Security Electronics and Networks | @Articles News | May 16, 2013, 7:00am AEST
The ruling by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal had forced Shoalhaven Council to shut down the system in Nowra for breaching the Privacy Act. The tribunal ruled the Council had not shown that filming people was reasonably necessary to prevent crime, and questioned the adequacy of signage near the cameras.
But the O’Farrell government has introduced new laws to protect local councils using video surveillance for public safety. It’s important because the decision of the ADT has threatened all local councils’ use of CCTV in NSW, including the large Sydney City Council system covering the CBD.
Unchallenged, the decision would have set a precedent that threatened all public surveillance systems across Australia, many of which have demonstrated their capacity to reduce crime and assist police investigations. Announcing the new laws, Local Government Minister Don Page said it was a sensible intervention and pointed out that he believes CCTV is a necessary tool to fight crime.
“Councils will be able to continue working with police to protect their local communities,” Page said.
The Nowra resident who complained, farmer Adam Bonner, says while he always knew the Government would legislate around the tribunal’s decision, he believed the public should be wary about the growing use of CCTV.
Nowra has a modest 18-camera system that cost around $A150,000 and was installed in 2008 to discourage crime and anti-social behaviour in the CBD and to enhance the safety of residents. The installation had strong support from the local business community.
The system is located inside the police station’s network cabinet and is monitored by council operators from a workstation inside the police station. There’s a strict protocol governing viewing, retention and dissemination of images, though the ADT challenged Nowra Council and Police over certain administrative aspects of their joint management of the system.
While the ADT found that the Council’s CCTV program was authorised, it found that that the Council was non-compliant with a number of IPPs – namely Section 10 of the Privacy Act. It said Council had not taken reasonable steps to ensure that the subject of the CCTV information collection was made aware of the implications for their privacy of the collection process, and of any protections that apply, before or at the time of collection.
Not all the cameras had a sign near them to inform people that their images were being collected. The ADT said increased signage would make it more likely that more individuals would become aware that the cameras are in operation and that personal information was being collected.
ADT also claimed a breach of Section 11 of the Privacy Act in that the Council had not taken such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances (having regard to the purpose for which the information is collected) to ensure that the CCTV information that is collected is relevant to that purpose, is not excessive and is accurate, up to date and is complete.
According to the ADT, the vast majority of the information collected under the Council’s CCTV program was collateral information and not relevant to the crime prevention purpose. And the ADT said there was no suggestion that the Police made any use of the collected information for law enforcement purposes.
Interestingly, the ADT also found that the images and footage of the plaintiff were of such poor quality that, in any event, the information would be of little assistance for law enforcement purposes, and was not complete. Given the capacity for fragments of general scenes to provide timelines in investigation, it’s hard to agree general views are worthless, though poor quality views certainly are.
Finally the ADT said there was a breach of Section 12(c) of the Privacy Act. ADT argued the Council had not taken reasonable security safeguards against loss, unauthorised access and misuse of the CCTV information. The use of a generic password rather than an individual user name and password for each authorised user meant that there was no way of knowing who was using the live monitor at the Nowra Police Station.
The ADT held that, at a minimum, compliance with section 12(c) would require appropriate training and monitoring of the use of individual user names and passwords to provide an audit trail of users of the system.
In releasing it findings the ADT ordered that the Council refrain from any conduct or action in contravention of an IPP or privacy code of practice, and gave the plaintiff a written apology for the IPP breaches and advise him of the Council’s steps to remove the possibility of similar breaches in the future.
Regardless of the government’s decision to ratify the use of CCTV in public surveillance installations like Nowra, the findings of the ADT should be used by council surveillance and safety system operators across Australia as an additional yardstick for the improvement of their systems.
That means a sign per camera, a targeted function, the use of higher performance cameras with improved camera views that have specifically targeted rather than general views, improved security of network racks used for video storage purposes and improved access control of workstations that manage public surveillance systems. A system’s operational performance also needs to be documented regularly so its value to the community can be readily ascertained.