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Charlotte Baker has published 6 articles

Privacy Row Rages On

Campaign Group Big Brother Watch calls upon Oxford City Council to scrap plans to implement audio-enabled CCTV in taxis, following recent court ruling
Charlotte Baker on Wednesday 7th December 2011
Photograph: Todd Huffman

The civil liberties organisation, Big Brother Watch, has re-issued its calls for Oxford City Council to scrap its plan to introduce CCTV audio-enabled cameras into taxicabs in the city.

The plans were due to be implemented by April 2015, but there has been fresh opposition to them in light of a recent court ruling. A judge at Southampton Crown Court stated that, “it was not reasonably necessary to install audio cameras on a permanent basis in all taxis in Southampton.” Paragraph 71 of the ruling in the case of Southampton City Council versus Kevin May stated, “The condition does not correspond to a pressing social need, is not proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and is not necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country.”

Following this judgment, the Director of Big Brother Watch, Nick Pickles, wrote to Oxford City Council, urging them to “abandon this invasive and unlawful policy without delay.” He commented, “I have written highlighting this ruling because the policy it lays out is very clear – such plans are unlawful, disproportionate and a clear violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

He went on to add that it would be “reckless for the Council to pursue such a policy, when it would clearly leave them open to legal challenges, as has been the case in Southampton. In times of spending constraints, this would needlessly put taxpayers’ money at risk.”

Oxford City Council claimed when the proposals were first made that they were concerned solely with the safety of both taxi drivers and passengers, following alleged assaults, mainly arising from arguments about fares in the city.

The Council’s plans have provoked mixed reactions amongst the student population in Oxford. One second year Geography student reflected, “Although they are run by private firms, taxis are, to a certain extent, a public entity – so if the installation of CCTV cameras increases safety, I can’t see that it’s a bad thing. What are people trying to hide?”

However, a second year Law student disagreed, saying, “It seems to me that there is little evidence to support the council’s plans; and now that this ruling has taken place in Southampton, it could set a precedent for similar cases, which might leave Oxford City Council in a tricky situation.’

A spokesman for Oxford City Council said that, in light of the developments, “We need to take the time to consider the ruling before we can make any decision regarding plans to introduce CCTV in taxis.”

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