November 16, 2011
•All cabs in Oxford will have at least one CCTV camera
•Taxpayer will be lumbered with £260,000 bill
•Civil liberties groups brand move a 'staggering invasion of privacy'
•Council says it is acting after increased complaints including sexual assaults and attacks on drivers.
Cab drivers and their passengers are to be spied on during journeys in what has been denounced as a ‘a staggering invasion of privacy’.
CCTV cameras are to be fitted in 650 taxis – costing the taxpayer £260,000 – to monitor drivers throughout their shift and record the conversations of passengers.
The cameras will begin recording sound and vision from the moment the ignition is turned on and remain on for 30 minutes after the engine has stopped running.
Big Brother is listening to you: Every taxi in Oxford will have a CCTV camera
The footage gathered will be kept for 28 days on a CCTV hard-drive in case it is needed following, for example, an attack on the driver.
It will cost Oxford City Council taxpayers £400 to fit each of the 107 black cabs and 545 private hire vehicles in the city with the CCTV system.
The fact that recordings will be encrypted and only accessible in the event of a police investigation are added safeguards, a council spokesman insisted.
Civil liberties campaigners attacked the measure.
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Nick Pickles, the campaign group's director, said: ‘This is a staggering invasion of privacy, being done with no evidence, no consultation and a total disregard for civil liberties.
‘Big Brother now has big ears, and they are eavesdropping on your conversations with absolutely no justification.’
He added: ‘Given that one rail route to Witney [David Cameron's constituency] is through Oxford, we'll be letting the Prime Minister know that his staff might want to avoid using Oxford cabs.’
A spokeswoman for Oxford City Council said video and audio would run all the time in the cabs but officials will only be allowed to view the material if there has been a complaint.
Complaints: Oxford City Council said it acted after an increase in complaints where it was one person's word against another
The authority said complaints against both taxi drivers and passengers had increased year on year and without CCTV the allegations 'amount to one persons word against the other'.
Complaints included overcharging, sexual assaults and attacks on drivers.
The spokeswoman added: ‘Oxford City Council considers that so long as clear notices are provided in vehicles which inform passengers that video and audio recording may be taking place, the risk of intrusion is acceptable compared to the public safety benefits.
‘In any event, the level of privacy reasonably to be expected in a licensed vehicle is far lower than that expected in the privacy of one’s home or own car.’
She added that the footage will not be routinely viewed, but will be kept for 28 days on a CCTV hard-drive in case it is needed following a specific incident.
CCTV: Oxford City Council said as long as clear notices appear in all taxis the 'risk of intrusion is acceptable'
A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner's Office said it is not normally justified to use CCTV to record conversations between members of the public as 'it is highly intrusive'.
But she added that council applications to install cameras in cabs are likely to be acceptable because of the number of crimes being committed in taxis.
An ICO spokeswoman said: ‘Licensing authorities must take account of people's right to privacy when deciding whether to impose CCTV as a licence condition for taxi drivers.
‘As well as assessing the impact on privacy, we have accepted they [councils] can take into account factors such as the likelihood of crimes being committed against drivers and passengers; the vulnerable one-to-one situation; the fact that taxis are travelling all over the area at different times of day; and CCTV can protect both the driver and passengers.’
All taxis licensed for the first time by Oxford City Council must have the equipment installed from April 6 next year. Cabs which are already registered will have until April 2015 to get the camera fitted, the council said.
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