Surveillance policies for schools: balancing personal freedoms and safety

Safety and security are an everyday part of modern life, whether we’re at home, work or play. They are an inherent part of management in schools where  safeguarding students is paramount.  A school’s CCTV infrastructure can protect students and teachers, but is the price of protection too high in terms of intrusiveness, and other risks?  Increasingly members of the public need to be reassured the surveillance in place is measured and that video images, themselves ‘personal data’, are secure and remain in safe hands.

Security versus privacy

As a society we have come to accept surveillance camera systems.  Roads and pavements at school entrances are covered by an array of security and surveillance measures, each designed to discourage and prevent anti-social behaviour, theft and violent attack, and provide evidence when required. Yet that same surveillance carries with it the risk of mis-use, e.g. use of images for the targeting of students, should they fall into the wrong hands. 

Four years ago a survey by the British Security Industry Association concluded there were six million surveillance cameras operating in the UK. Increasing numbers of cameras, drones and body-worn cameras since then has likely doubled that number.  Maintaining a balance between the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens on the one hand and safeguarding them in the community on the other is at the heart of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s (SCC’s) strategy.  Schools operating surveillance cameras capturing footage should be working to best practice standards.

 The Surveillance Camera Commissioner

Compliance with the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice issued by the Home Office in 2013 is a valuable symbol of trust in the public eye.   The Surveillance Camera Code of Practice raises standards by enabling surveillance providers to benchmark themselves, encourage continual improvement, and ensure surveillance is robust and fit for purpose.  This in turn helps secure public confidence. 

The code sets out 12 guiding principles, a comprehensive structure that enables sound, transparent decision-making in regard to the use of surveillance cameras.  Since being appointed, the SCC has created a series of tools to support the operators of public space surveillance camera equipment.  The self-assessment tools cover use of:

  • CCTV
  • automatic number plate recognition (ANPR)
  • body worn video (BWV)
  • unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drones

The practical application of good guidance for public spaces can be found in the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/surveillance-camera-code-of-practice-third-party-certification-scheme. 

Surveillance Systems Best Practice

Ensuring a system is fit for purpose is essential in protecting students in school. NSI’s recently updated Code of Practice NCP 104 (Issue 3) for the design, installation and maintenance of CCTV surveillance systems, against which NSI approved companies are audited, sets out for installers a structured approach to the delivery of a CCTV surveillance system,  to ensure it meets a school’s  requirements and delivers effective security and system operability.

By focusing on the user needs and requirements and encouraging a collaborative approach to system design, NSI’s NCP 104 Code of Practice stands alongside Government’s aim of protecting the public and supporting system operators striving to exercise best practice. The Code steers installers and buyers to ensure user requirements are well defined and agreed prior to the commencement of system design.

Typically a site survey to assess surveillance areas, considering activity being monitored, lighting levels (e.g. in day/night time hours), environmental conditions, the utilisation of existing local area networks, and cyber security risks, provides a valuable basis for agreeing user needs. 

During the design and installation process, reviewing and revising the requirements and the proposed solution are an essential part of ensuring proportionate, effective and secure use of the CCTV system for surveillance purposes.

Once installed, systems need an appropriate inspection and maintenance programme to ensure service continuity. The use of software and firmware, either embedded in system components or used in application and operating systems, means that inspection and maintenance is more essential than ever. Any standby and back-up power supply is, as always, key to a system’s integrity (from hacking).  System designers need to consider how cyber threats should be initially mitigated and, once the system is installed, how they are managed as part of the on-going maintenance regime. 

Surveillance keeps us all safer. With a good governance framework it ensures personal freedoms are protected, the key message being that personal freedom must not be compromised at the altar of personal security.

Standards and good practice in surveillance ensure the balance between protecting personal freedoms and providing secure school environments.  

Richard Jenkins is Chief Executive at the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) – the UK’s leading, independent third party certification body in the security sector.  

NSI approves over 1800 companies for their wide ranging security and fire services including CCTV installation and management. Find out more about NSI security systems

 

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