Conference Paper (unpublished)

When Technologies Collide: Evolving Governance Mechanisms for Surveillance Cameras in the UK



Webster W & Fussey P (2023) When Technologies Collide: Evolving Governance Mechanisms for Surveillance Cameras in the UK. Permanent Study Group 1: eGovernance. European Group of Public Administration (EGPA), Zagreb, Croatia, 05.09.2023-08.09.2023.

This paper explores twin interlinked processes associated with technological development and developments in governance arrangements surrounding the use of surveillance cameras in the UK. Here, it is argued that the development of technology and governance mechanisms are intertwined and that the loosening of safeguards designed to raise standards and protect citizens may resulting in the deployment of technologies that are not in the public interest. The technological backdrop to this paper is the widespread use of surveillance cameras, often referred to as CCTV, in public places in the UK and elsewhere. More recently, advances in computerisation, especially around Artificial Intelligence, have provided new opportunities for innovative applications to be integrated into public space camera systems. The most significant of these is Face Recognition Technology (FRT), where algorithms match faces in crowds to those contained in police databases. FRT is controversial for a number of reasons, including: poor success rates, inbuild racial bias, a presumption of guilt and because there is a lack of public support for such systems. To date, FRT applications have been limited in number, primarily because of oversight safeguards embedded in the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s Surveillance Camera Code of Practice. Whist there is a noticeable evolution of the technology in recent years there is also a significant change about to happen in the regulatory landscape. Buried in the 2023 Data Protection and Digital Information Bill is a clause which abolishes the Office of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (OBSCC) . There are no clauses setting out the transfer of roles or functions, the legislative requirements relating to surveillance cameras will simply cease to exist. Here the Bill posits that the new Information Commission, The UK’s data protection regulatory authority which will replace the Information Commissioner’s Office , will regulate surveillance cameras in the same way as any other digital technology. For some, this is seen as a retrograde step as the OBSCC had raised technical standards, encouraged ethical procurement practices, promoted the importance of public confidence in systems and provided national oversight in the way such systems were deployed. Moreover, the view that surveillance cameras are just data processes fails to recognise how they impact on citizen-state relations. The paper assesses the new governance arrangements for surveillance cameras embedded in the 2023 Data Protection and Digital Information Bill (the ‘Bill’). The paper draws on new empirical research of 20 expert interviews conducted in 2023. It focusses on the perceived benefits of legislative change and its perceived ramifications. Here, there is deep concern within the policy community, and specifically in relation to the potential unchecked deployment of FRT in the coming years.

Surveillance cameras; CCTV; governance; regulation

Title of seriesPermanent Study Group 1: eGovernance
Publisher URL
Place of publicationZagreb
ConferenceEuropean Group of Public Administration (EGPA)
Conference locationZagreb, Croatia

People (1)


Professor William Webster

Professor William Webster

Personal Chair, Management, Work and Organisation