Securing Whose World? G4S, Asylum Accommodation and the use of Body Worn Cameras.

Just this week, asylum support organisations in the West Midlands received notification that G4S have, for an unspecified period of time, been ‘piloting’ the use of body worn cameras by their  COMPASS (Commercial and Operating Managers Procuring Asylum Support) Welfare Officers, contracted to the Home Office.

A letter from G4S, dated December 12th 2016, to be provided to asylum seekers accommodated under the contract  lG4S Body Worn Cameras Letter to SUs Dec 16 JWl] says that:

G4S Welfare Officers will be wearing small cameras as they do their work to support you. The cameras will record pictures as well as sound all the time.

‘The cameras, like those used in our initial accommodation facility, are there to protect you and G4S staff. Footage will be deleted each day, unless there has been an incident. If that happens to you, we will need to speak to you and explain what will happen. The film cannot be accessed by your Welfare Officer

‘Please remember that threatening or abusive behaviour is very rare. However, G4S want to do all possible to protect you and the camera is there to stop any threatening behaviour’.

An accompanying document, headed ‘Q&A use of Body Worn Cameras on COMPASS Contract’  G4S Body Worn Cameras QA Dec 16 JW  notes that:

‘The vast majority of asylum seekers accommodated by G4S are courteous and are respectful to our team and UK law. There are, however, a small but significant number of incidents where staff members have encountered threatening or aggressive behaviour from the people G4S accommodates and signposts to health and education services. G4S takes the welfare of its staff very seriously: this year there have been 73 assaults of officers from some Service Users; this not only puts welfare officers at risk, but it also damages the trust and good relationships that the officers enjoy with the vast majority of the people in our care’.

This document further instructs that:

‘Any video that records threatening or violent behaviour will be uploaded from the camera onto a fully encrypted hard drive. Where footage is believed to show intimidating or aggressive behaviour, it will be viewed by a suitably vetted and trained person and, as necessary, reported to the Police and Home Office. This hard drive is held at a G4S secure location. Viewing of data believed to contain a record of threatening or violent behaviour will only be viewed by staff appropriately vetted for such a task, and will be carried out in a private location in order to prevent unauthorised viewing. Only if the footage is found to be relevant to the incident in question will it accompany the Incident Report sent to the Home Office (via an encrypted hard drive).

While G4S vouch that they consider the practices outlined to be consistent with the principles of safe data use and storage, we are struggling to see how this could conceivably be the case.

The Office of the Information Commissioner has published a code of practice [ https://ico.org.uk/media/for-organisations/documents/1595/pia-code-of-practice.pdf ] , which requires that:

‘Individuals whose information is recorded have a right to be provided
with that information or, if they consent to it, view that information.
Information must be provided promptly and within no longer than 40
calendar days of receiving a request. Providing information promptly is
important, particularly where you may have a set retention period which
will mean that the information will have been routinel deleted if you take
the full 40 calendar days to respond. In such circumstances it is good
practice to put a hold on the deletion of the information.’ (5.2.3)

If the Code of Practice states that individuals whose information is recorded have a right to view that information within 40 days of requesting it, it is difficult to see how G4S’  stated policy of deleting information ‘each day’ unless they judge ‘an incident’ to have occurred can conceivably be in line with it.

What is also striking here is the sheer imbalance of power between G4S’ Welfare Officers and the people to whom G4S has a duty of care. While we fully and unequivocally support Welfare Officers’ rights to go about their business without fear of intimidation, violence or abuse, we consider it axiomatic that these rights should also be extended to individuals living in G4S accommodation. Yet, while communication around the introduction of surveillance cameras refers specifically to the objective of ‘protecting’ service users and staff alike, it is striking that there are no evident routes by which service users might access such protection: if a member of G4S’ staff considers themself to have been subjected to aggressive or abusive behaviour, they can request that it be uploaded and viewed by the responsible officer within the organisation, with a view to its submission to the Police and/or the Home Office for investigation.

If, however, an asylum seeker considers themself to have been subjected to such behaviour by a member of G4S’ staff, how do they address that concern? While we have no doubt that the majority of G4S’ staff conduct themselves in a courteous and professional manner, we are also aware of reports of incidents when such standards have not been upheld. Yet how can complainants seek to have such incidents investigated unless available data is stored for an appropriate period of time? To whom should they send Subject Access Requests, and what training has been made available to G4S operatives to ensure that they know how to recognise and process such requests?

We are aware that, when the police introduced the practice of wearing body cameras, the rationale was very much along the lines that this would lead to greater transparency: officers would be forced to act in a respectful fashion, since their behaviour was being recorded and could be subjected to scrutiny. And research suggests that complaints against police officers dropped by 93% following cameras’ introduction. [ http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/use-of-body-worn-cameras-sees-complaints-against-police-virtually-vanish-study-finds ]

So, to ensure police accountability, footage is downloaded to a cloud at the
end of each officers’ shift, with the decision then taken whether to store
the data indefinitely, or for 31 days- allowing subjects recorded the
opportunity to make subject access requests to access their data, should
they wish to.

Yet G4S’ stated practice of deleting all footage each day unless one of their Welfare Officer considers it salient runs against this principle of transparency- with the corollary that G4S is effectively less accountable than the Metropolitan Police.

The ICO Guidance further notes that:

‘BWV devices have the ability to be switched on or off, but it is
important to know when and when not to record. Continuous recording will
require strong justification as it is likely to be excessive and cause a
great deal of collateral intrusion. This is because continuous recording
is likely to capture people going about their daily business, as well as
the individual who is the focus of your attention. Remember that the
presence of audio recording adds to the privacy intrusion (further detail
on audio recording can be found in section 8 of this code). Further
justification will be required if you are thinking of recording in more
sensitive areas, such as private dwellings, schools, care homes etc. The
pressing social need will have to be far greater in order for the use of
BWV systems to be necessary and proportionate. This will require the
operator to provide more evidence to support its use in this situation.
(7.2)

Example: It may be appropriate for a Parking Enforcement Officer to
switch on their BWV camera when they believe an individual is being
aggressive or there is the potential for aggression. However, it would not
be appropriate to switch it on when an individual is merely asking for
directions.’

From the correspondence we have received, G4S appears to be planning to record every single encounter with its service users, with the statement that it is necessary for the cameras to be recording ‘all the time’ in order to prevent the occurrence of violent
incidents they themselves acknowledge to be ‘rare’. It is not at all clear why G4S Welfare Officers should be at significantly more risk than either police officers or parking enforcement officers.

Additionally, of course, there is the consideration that  G4S Officers, unlike Parking Enforcement Officers, will be recording residents and their guests in their own homes, rather than in public places- with all the attendant Article 8 ECHR private life concerns that raises: Again, if statutory guidance suggests that it is not appropriate for Parking Enforcement Officers to be recording members of the public for the entirety of their working day, why is it appropriate for G4S staff perpetually to record interactions with people going about their business in their own homes, potentially wishing to protect their privacy around, for example, sensitive personal relationships? The people subject to recording here are not accused of any form of criminal offence or misdemeanour, but are simply living out their daily lives.

What thought, then, has G4S given to the data protection rights of people within the accommodation other than the service users themselves? And what consideration has been given to fundamental  issues of consent and intrusion?

The  information made available to date outlines no circumstances under which individuals  can withhold their consent to be filmed and/or recorded. It is far from impossible to imagine situations in which individuals, aggrieved by what they consider to be an invasion of their privacy, are warned by their welfare officers that their expressions of dissatisfaction could be construed as aggressive or intimidating, and potentially subject to sanction.

 Yet while it may well be lawful to film or record people in public without their consent, these people are, of course, not in a public place: they are in their own homes, where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Under the circumstances, we consider it reasonable, at the very least, that G4S should publish a Privacy Impact Assessment, outlining with whom they consulted before writing their Body-Camera policy, what potential privacy risks were highlighted during this consultation, and what plans are in place to address such risks.

We have expressed our concerns around these matters to G4S, and will continue to monitor the situation.

 

 

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