Southampton council told not to force drivers to record passenger conversations
Taxi drivers must not record their passengers' conversations and councils cannot force them to, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has said.
The privacy watchdog ruled that the practice of using in-car CCTV image and audio surveillance that many councils want to adopt for safety reasons is "disproportionate" and breaches the Data Protection Act (DPA).
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The ICO has already forced Oxford City Council to abandon its plans to introduce this surveillance.
Now Southampton cabbies who have been forced to record passengers' images and conversations on CCTV since 2009 will no longer have to do so after the ICO issued an enforcement notice against Southampton City Council,
Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said: "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.
"By requiring taxi operators to record all conversations and images while the vehicles are in use, Southampton City Council has gone too far.
The ICO said drivers can use CCTV or other recording technology but only in certain situations.
"It is not proportionate to continuously monitor and record passengers. If drivers feel threatened then they can start recording," the ICO said.
Drivers will have to register with the ICO as a data controller if they wish to use the equipment.
Graham Wilkins, managing director of Radio Taxis Southampton Ltd, said the use of CCTV was helpful for protecting cabbies and passengers if used properly.
He highlighted that cabbies often get robbed or assaulted and the technology can protect passengers, citing how CCTV footage ensured that cabbie Elyas Hardari had his licence revoked after he threatened three elderly passengers.
However, he criticised Southampton City Council and said it had made a "mess of things" during the planning process.
"These CCTVs cost each driver £350 and drivers could have got equally good cameras and audio equipment far cheaper.
"Now if they can't or don't want to use them, will the council pay compensation? The costs of running a taxi are incredibly high and drivers don't need this additional expense," he said.
Southampton City Council said it was now considering a legal challenge to the ICO's ruling.
Jacqui Rayment, deputy leader of Southampton City Council, said the ICO had not taken onboard its reassurances about passenger privacy.
"Data is encrypted, kept very securely and only downloaded if there is a specific complaint against a driver or if the police request access in order to investigate an alleged offence," she said.
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