Friday, 22 February 2008


When time is of the essence ...

I happened to come across this story from the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and whilst the issue of time retention is one of the longest running arguments in the CCTV biz, the city authorities present period of 7 days is almost guaranteed to create more problems than it solves.

Historically, it's long been accepted that if Video Surveillance is correctly applied, it should be as beneficial in terms of exonerating the innocent, as it can be at identifying the guilty. The problem of course is that very often there can be a time delay between a crime being reported, and the investigating officers getting to locate the presence of CCTV, and in so doing, recover whatever recordings are available.

Here in the U.K., in most (but not all) situations, an individual that is captured on a security camera system, does have the right to request access to their 'recorded data', so in terms of gaining access to evidential recordings, in theory it should be fairly straightforward.

The problem appears to be with the San Francisco scenario, that whilst Public Defenders are prevented from accessing recordings that could assist their clients in proving their innocence, the law enforcement community are equally disadvantaged by what is an extremely short, and patently almost worthless 7 day retention period.

The U.K.'s Data Protection Act does make provision for recordings to be retained as long as is thought appropriate in a given situation, and generally speaking that has resulted in 31 days becoming the norm for Public Space surveillance systems. If the truth be told, there are situations where a longer period could easily be justified, but then the system operators would probably say that the increased cost of extended storage would generally not be outweighed, by the benefits to the data subject.

If it were simply a case of establishing innocence or guilt, then that could in theory be distilled down into a cost related equation, but where preservation of human life is increasingly a valid and predictable objective, one could be forgiven for asking whether it's time to invest a bit more considered thought, about what is such a vital constituent.


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