Smart CCTV has revolutionised the way we monitor cities, buildings, vehicles and of course people. Networked cameras have allowed security teams to review footage in live time from the other side of the world, but how far is too far when it comes to surveillance, and should we allow this encroachment of surveillance into our work life?
The intrusion of CCTV in the UK has been much discussed, from an over-zealous nanny state to much lauded anti-criminal measures, surveillance of any kind is often a subject to rile even the most neutral thinker.
It’s reasonable, to most of us, to think that CCTV is often a good option for deterring criminals from a business. Smart CCTV offers a fantastic option for those away from a building still needing to monitor or record what’s going on, but what happens when this ‘deterrent’ is turned back on their employees?
With the introduction of lower cost smart CCTV, business managers can now remotely view their offices 24/7 with the simple click of an app, in live-time. For the first time, live surveillance has become cheap enough for almost anyone to run in any sized business.
More and more business are installing smart CCTV to not only protect the office, but monitor their employees. From recording movements, working patterns and even internal crime monitoring, CCTV is one of the fastest growing markets in the networked or ‘smart office’… but how far is too far and should some environments really be CCTV free?
Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, understands the need for smart CCTV but believes it’s not the catch all for preventing crime.
“The rise of smart CCTV systems is almost inevitable. They are becoming cheaper, easier to purchase and make the traditional CCTV cameras look severely outdated. It is imperative though that we stop and think about what the impact of new technology will have on our privacy and whether it will actually lead to better security. After all, traditional CCTV has long been seen as a silver bullet when it comes to tackling crime. Yet despite the UK having a significant number of CCTV cameras, the crime rate is not significantly lower than countries with fewer cameras.”
Intrusion or Necessity?So is CCTV in an office a crucial security measure or simply another way for management to keeps its employees in check. For those who work in office environment with comprehensive CCTV coverage, do they necessarily feel safer, of simply untrusted?
Emma car believes that business should be thinking of the impact of smart CCTV in an office before implementing an intrusive system.
“Before even thinking about purchasing smart CCTV, it is important to stop and think about whether it is really necessary to keep staff, customers and the business safe and whether there are other less intrusive options available.”
“If the public were told that every time they entered a business the CCTV camera watching them was trying to work out who they were, then it is likely that many people would choose to not enter that business at all.”
“The only way that smart CCTV systems can be ethically deployed is if the public is able to opt into having their image stored and tracked, rather than there being no choice.”
Changing the Work Psyche
This opinion over intrusion and necessity is shared by a number of security experts. Earlier in the year Tony Porter, the government’s official surveillance commissioner said that the overuse of CCTV risks changing “psyche of the community”.
The same issue could and likely has been transferred to the office environment, with the psyche or at least moral of the staff likely changing with the introduction of smart CCTV, 1984 anyone?
So we might not like the idea of being recorded in our day to day activities, but was does the law have to say about CCTV surveillance? Well, it’s legal… if the employer sticks to a few points. According to the UK Data protection act :
“If your business uses CCTV, you must tell people they may be recorded. This is usually done by displaying signs, which must be clearly visible and readable.”
Ok so that’s legitimate, but what about the purpose of using CCTV? Well again, if conditions are adhered to a business can use CCTV for quite a few reasons:
Security: To prevent theft, violence and other crimes.
Health and safety: to check that health and safety rules are being complied with and/or so that footage is available in the event of a specific breach.
Protecting business interests: To prevent misconduct.
Assessing and improving productivity
Compliance: Adherence to legal and regulatory obligations
“You must also notify the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) why you’re using the CCTV.”
“You should control who can see the recordings, and make sure the system is only used for the purpose it was intended for.” However, “If the system was set up to detect crime, you should not use it to monitor the amount of work done by your staff.”
So, from a legal stance, your employer can argue legitimate use of CCTV to unearth almost anything from theft to lazy workers, which for employees at least, kinda sucks.
[It is worth noting here employers still have to fall within the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998 .]
Effective Safety and Security
Ok so we’ve attacked the moral use of smart CCTV here a little but there is, at least for owners and employers, legitimate reason to use these cameras.
Paramount is security and safety of the business and staff. Whether that is literally office protection from criminals or improving and monitoring health and safety in a building. Those monitoring smart CCTV could alert staff to pending dangers or analyse footage offsite if the camera itself has been damaged.
So how about office productivity? Possibly a little more borderline intrusion rather than necessity, but employee efficiency is a big concern for employers and smart CCTV (alongside PC tracking) can show managers what their staff are actually up to during their day. A pretty tempting though for a raft of results-driven managers out there.
Security will always draw a split opinion, and alleged intrusion into a part of your life where you invest do much time, like work, is going to ruffle feathers. It’s clear there are a number of issues implementing smart CCTV, but is this outweighed by the security and safety benefits?
What do you think, should business be allowed to implement smart CCTV across the board, is it their right to so or should employees have more say?