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Council ordered to stop unlawful recording of taxi passengers’ conversations

Council ordered to stop unlawful recording of taxi passengers’ conversations

News release: 25 July 2012


Southampton City Council has been ordered to stop the mandatory recording of passengers’ and drivers’ conversations in the city’s taxis, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced today.

Since August 2009, the council has required all taxis and private hire vehicles to install CCTV equipment to constantly record images and the conversations of both drivers and passengers.

The ICO has ruled the council’s policy breaches the Data Protection Act, concluding that the recording of all conversations is disproportionate given the very low number of incidents occurring compared to the number of trouble free taxi journeys. An enforcement notice has been issued to the council who now have until 1 November to comply.

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

“By requiring taxi operators to record all conversations and images while the vehicles are in use, Southampton City Council have gone too far.

“We recognise the Council’s desire to ensure the safety of passengers and drivers but this has to be balanced against the degree of privacy that most people would reasonably expect in the back of a taxi cab. It is only right that the privacy of drivers and passengers is respected. This is particularly important as many drivers will use their vehicles outside work. While CCTV can be used in taxis, local authorities must be sensible about the extent to which they mandate its use, particularly when audio recording is involved.”

The ICO has recently investigated a similar policy that was proposed by Oxford City Council. The ICO took preliminary enforcement action stating that the recording of passengers’ and drivers’ conversations in the city’s taxis would breach the Data Protection Act. The council have now suspended the implementation of the policy.

The Commissioner continued:

“We hope this action sends a clear message to local authorities that they must properly consider all the legal obligations on them before requiring the installation of CCTV or similar equipment and that audio recording should be very much the exception, rather than the rule.”

The Data Protection Act states that organisations can only collect personal data when it is fair and lawful to do so. For CCTV equipment in taxis, the ICO advises that images should only be recorded where it is clearly justifiable. Audio recordings should only be made on very rare occasions, for example where there are a high number of serious incidents and where recording is triggered due to a specific threat in a taxi cab.

A copy of today’s enforcement notice served to the council can be found on the ICO's Taking action page.

 

Notes to Editors

1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
 
2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.

3. The ICO is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and produces a monthly e-newsletter. Our press office page provides more information for journalists.

4. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:

  • Fairly and lawfully processed
  • Processed for limited purposes 
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive 
  • Accurate and up to date 
  • Not kept for longer than is necessary 
  • Processed in line with your rights 
  • Secure 
  • Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

5.  Enforcement notices are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the notice. Any Notice of Appeal should be served on the Tribunal within 28 days of the date on which this Notice is served.