THE leaders of Torridge District Council and North Devon Council believe a new code of practice on how CCTV cameras should be used in England and Wales will have little effect on how cameras are currently run in each district.
The new rules - introduced by the Home Office – came into effect yesterday and state that CCTV cameras should be used to protect and support people, not to spy on them.
The code is for surveillance systems run by local authorities and police forces rather than private companies.
In total there are 48 CCTV cameras operated by North Devon Council and Torridge District Council – 30 in North Devon and 18 in Torridge.
Nationally some 51,600 CCTV cameras are controlled by local authorities, while 2,107 schools operate a further 47,806 cameras. More than 100,000 watch us while we use public transport.
The new code states: “The purpose … will be to ensure that individuals and wider communities have confidence that surveillance cameras are deployed to protect and support them, rather than spy on them.
“The Government considers that wherever overt surveillance in public places is in pursuit of a legitimate aim and meets a pressing need, any such surveillance should be characterised as surveillance by consent."
But Councillor Brian Greenslade, the leader of North Devon Council, said: “We have just received notice of this new code of practice and need to study it further.
“However, from an initial read it appears North Devon Council are already operating within the code so I suspect it will require little or no change.”
Councillor Philip Collins, the leader of Torridge District Council, added: “‘Torridge District Council is responsible for 18 CCTV cameras and employs four full time CCTV operators with three relief staff.
“All operators are aware of the new code of practice and will work in accordance to that code.
“I have spent many hours at the CCTV nerve centre with one of our operators and I believe we have a very good team looking after the town.
“They work closely with the police and a number of local businesses which participate in the Radiolink walkie-talkie scheme so they can communicate with each other quickly if necessary in order to help keep the town centre safe.”
However campaigners say the code does not go far enough in ensuring CCTV systems are not misused.
Emma Carr, from civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said CCTV remains a vital issue.
She said: “We're getting an increasing amount of phone calls and letters from people who are concerned about their neighbours putting up CCTV cameras in their gardens, which cover their own private areas and sometimes look into their houses.”
“And then there's also the technological development in terms of CCTV. Facial recognition and HD CCTV cameras. These are all available online to pretty much anybody.”