Be careful what you say if you decide to take a taxi or the bus in Oxford -- every word will be recorded.
Despite being in clear breach of the guidance issued by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and a gross invasion of privacy, Oxford Council has decided to make it a condition for all licensed black cabs in the city to record both audio and
The audio will be available to council officers and the police, and will cover any time the taxi's engine is running and the 30 minutes after the engine has been switched off.
The Oxford Times has the story, which also uncovered that audio recording is curently in use on Oxford Bus Company buses and Stagecoach's Oxford Tube bus.
The Information Commissioner's Office has a code of practice for the use of CCTV and it's clear on the issue of audio recording.
CCTV must not be used to record conversations between members of the public as this is highly intrusive and unlikely to be justified. You should choose a system without this facility if possible. If your system comes equipped with a sound
recording facility then you should turn this off or disable it in some other way.
However, the Council has taken a rather different approach. Oxford City Council's Taxi Licensing Pack states that:
the equipment must be:
4. Capable of providing voice recording
5. The recording must be event activated (e.g. door or ignition) and continue to record 30 minutes after the ignition is switched off.
It remains to be seen if the Council even has the legal authority to do this.
When the policy was first proposed, it was (according to the council) supported by taxi drivers, and the policy was backed publicly by Alan Woodward, secretary of The City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Cab Association. However, since our intervention
-- which saw the policy receive international media coverage as far afield as Fox News and Russia Today -- Woodward has been forced to resign, and now the city's taxi drivers are speaking out.
A ruling by Southampton Crown Court has sent a clear message to local authorities across the country, a policy of mandatory audio recording in taxis is unlawful, being both disproportionate and a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention
on Human Rights.
The case, Southampton City Council v Kevin May, is the first challenge against mandatory audio recording and comes weeks after Oxford council said it planned to introduce the policy. 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.
The case evaluated the arguments put forward in favour of a system and comprehensively found Southampton Council was acting in breach of the law to enforce the policy.
At paragraph 71 of the ruling, the court reaffirms this point, saying:
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, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
However, the court ruled that it did not have the power to overturn the policy, and that it would require a judicial review to force the council to abandon it.
Big Brother Watch is calling for Southampton, Oxford and any other local authority considering this issue to abandon a policy which has now been established as disproportionate and a violation of Article 8? by a Court: We have written to
Oxford City Council calling for them to abandon their policy without delay on the basis of this decision.
A disgraceful scheme to put CCTV with microphones into all of Oxford's taxis has been put on hold over privacy fears. Oxford City Council has put it on hold while the Information Commissioner's Office investigates if recording people's
conversations is a breach of privacy.
Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood has also told the council she is unhappy with the scheme. She has also written to the Information Commissioner's Office seeking an update on that investigation. Blackwood said:
It does seem the city council has crossed the line.
It is an invasion of privacy and undermining of civil liberties that neither passengers nor taxi drivers themselves have welcomed.
The ICO stated to me that recording conversations between passengers is highly intrusive and unlikely to be justified.
CCTV plays an important role in combating crime but that has to be balanced with privacy concerns and used within common sense limits.
Town hall snoopers have been forcing taxi drivers to record all conversations in their cabs. In an alarming extension of the Big Brother state, CCTV and microphones had been installed in all cabs under the control of Southampton City Council.
However, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, responding to a complaint by a passenger, said most people expect privacy in the back of a cab, and that while CCTV can still be used, recording conversations must stop. He added:
By requiring taxi operators to record all conversations and images while the vehicles are in use, Southampton City Council has 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.
Jacqui Rayment, Southampton City Council's deputy leader, reprehensibly said:
We are disappointed with this decision. We are currently taking legal advice on the next steps to take, including appeal.'
Southampton began forcing local taxi drivers to record conversations between themselves and passengers in 2009, claiming it would provide greater safety for both parties.
In other parts of the country, including London, it is recommended that cabs either install CCTV systems without audio recording functions due to privacy concerns, or use a system which triggers audio recording only in specific circumstances for
a short period, such as if the driver has pressed a panic button.
After successfully challenging audio-CCTV in Oxford and Southampton, it has come to our attention that Doncaster is also pursuing audio recording in taxis.
Always-on audio recording means recording every minute of every conversation of every passenger. It is a disproportionate and intrusive policy that goes against data protection law and does little to address to the underlying threats to driver
Needless to say we'll be contacting Doncaster Council and the Information Commissioner about the scheme.
Following a Big Brother Watch complaint to the Information Commissioner, last month Southampton Council was handed an enforcement notice for it's policy of requiring taxis to record both audio and video of every taxi journey.
The council has now announced it will appeal the ICO's action.
Yet more public resources will be tied up defending a policy that has no grounding in rational thought or civil society. It's another example of a council trying to steamroller surveillance through without paying attention to public opinion,
privacy or in this case, the law.
A Government minister has agreed with Big Brother Watch. Bob Neill, Minister for Local Government, has also come out against the move. He said:
This is another example of excessive and unjustifiable snooping by a Town Hall Stasi, harming civil liberties and lacking common sense. The Labour council should withdraw the appeal rather than waste taxpayers' money on an expensive legal
Southampton Council's attempt to justify it's policy of requiring taxis to record audio and video of every journey took another blow when the First Tier Tribunal ruled against it.
The case stems from a complaint made by Big Brother Watch and others to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), and led to Oxford council abandoning it's policy and Southampton being given an enforcement notice -- essentially a
prosecution for breaching the Data Protection Act.
As reported by the barrister's chambers 11KBW, who acted for the ICO in the case:
What the Council disputed was (1) the conclusion that the policy involved the processing of sensitive personal data as well as personal data; and (2) the ICO's finding that the recording and retention of audio data was a disproportionate
interference with passengers' privacy rights under Article 8 of the European Convention.
On both points, the tribunal ruled against the council, saying the policy was disproportionate and accepting the risk of function creep .