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 safety.
Needless to say we'll be contacting Doncaster Council and the Information Commissioner about the scheme.
Update: Southampton Council Stasi
21st August 2012. See
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 challenge.