Body-Worn Cameras: A Code of Practice

Body-Worn Cameras: A Code of Practice

As the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) becomes ever more widespread, security companies are increasingly creating company-specific policies and codes of practice to ensure that the technology is being used responsibly (i.e., never operated without one eye firmly focussed on people’s right to privacy).


In 2013 (it was last amended in 2021), the Surveillance Camera Commissioner drafted the following code of practice for people using surveillance cameras in a professional context.


While codes of conduct specific to BWCs do exist (we have linked to Cambridge City Council’s BWC code of practice at least twice), this universal code of practice better suits our current purposes.


In this feature, we’ll be examining this code of practice point-by-point, detailing the reasoning behind each part and, if appropriate, suggesting methods for its expansion. By doing so, we hope that this feature can become the template for your own company’s BWC code of practice or may highlight areas wherein revisions to an existing code could be required. 

The SCC Code of Practice


1.   Use of a surveillance camera system must always be for a specified purpose which is in pursuit of a legitimate aim and necessary to meet an identified pressing need. 


This aligns neatly with UK law, which states that surveillance footage can only be used pursuant to the purpose for which it was filmed. Security footage, for example, may only be used for security purposes.


2.   The user of a surveillance camera system must take into account its effect on individuals and their privacy, with regular reviews to ensure its use remains justified. 


This is a clear and responsible rule. People’s rights to privacy should always be a primary concern for any security operative using a BWC. Typically, BWC footage gets closer than most CCTV footage, capturing details of people’s faces and, in many cases, making audio recordings as well. It is imperative therefore that such footage be taken only when necessary, deleted when no longer required and never used flippantly or with no regard for an innocent individual’s privacy.


3.   There must be as much transparency in the use of a surveillance camera system as possible, including a published contact point for access to information and complaints. 


This aligns with the terms of the Data Protection Act 2018, which grant individuals access to any footage unambiguously featuring them. Designating a clear and easily visible ‘contact point’ is a fair and transparent operating policy that shows you have nothing to hide. Making complaints easier to lodge with management can also serve to ensure that BWC operators are acting fairly and in accordance with company or venue policy.


4.   There must be clear responsibility and accountability for all surveillance camera system activities including images and information collected, held and used. 


Gathering personal data is a very sensitive endeavor. However, BWC use is not, at present, governed by any specific law, instead falling under the same laws that govern the use of CCTV and other forms of surveillance. As a result, it is vital that any security operatives being entrusted with BWCs are experienced, responsible, and able to work within the boundaries of both the law and any company or venue-specific codes of conduct. A clear set of punitive measures should be laid out in cases where these rules are not adhered to. The ultimate responsibility, of course, falls to management. 


5.   Clear rules, policies and procedures must be in place before a surveillance camera system is used, and these must be communicated to all who need to comply with them. 


Create a code of practice, make sure that every employee understands it and then ensure that it is always adhered to.


6.   No more images and information should be stored than that which is strictly required for the stated purpose of a surveillance camera system, and such images and information should be deleted once their purposes have been discharged. 


Unless the footage or images are serving a specific purpose (e.g., being used as evidence in a criminal case or to locate a missing person), they should not be kept under any circumstances.


7.   Access to retained images and information should be restricted and there must be clearly defined rules on who can gain access and for what purpose such access is granted; the disclosure of images and information should only take place when it is necessary for such a purpose or for law enforcement purposes. 


Under UK law, only a designated data controller can access and view security footage. In fact, it is part of a data controller’s job to ensure that this is always the case. The only exceptions to this rule would be in criminal cases and cases wherein the subject of the footage has formally requested to see it.


8.   Surveillance camera system operators should consider any approved operational, technical and competency standards relevant to a system and its purpose and work to meet and maintain those standards. 


Keep all camera equipment up-to-spec and in good working order.


9.   Surveillance camera system images and information should be subject to appropriate security measures to safeguard against unauthorised access and use. 


Cameras and, more particularly, their footage, must always be safely and securely stored to prevent theft, tampering and general damage.


10.             There should be effective review and audit mechanisms to ensure legal requirements, policies and standards are complied with in practice, and regular reports should be published. 


Regular reviews of BWC working practices should ensure that the company’s policies and codes of conduct are being properly adhered to at all times.


It goes without saying that every British business, like every person living in the UK, is subject to the law. Management should stay up to date with changes and developments in the laws that directly affect the business.


11.             When the use of a surveillance camera system is in pursuit of a legitimate aim, and there is a pressing need for its use, it should then be used in the most effective way to support public safety and law enforcement with the aim of processing images and information of evidential value. 


When deciding to use body cameras you need to make sure you have aims and objectives of why you are using them and what you are using them for, making sure that public safety is never breached.


12.             Any information used to support a surveillance camera system which compares against a reference database for matching purposes should be accurate and kept up to date.


Always keep all stored information as up to date as possible and that the time and date stamps on the cameras are correct, when using this as evidence this will be an important factor.


By observing these 12 guidelines, we hope that you will find an appropriate starting point for your own BWC code of practice, or perhaps an opportunity to expand upon an existing one. You can then tailor these rules to your own company’s culture and working practices. 

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