Britain’s surveillance camera network, which costs the government £2.2 billion a year, could be targeted by state actors or individual hackers.
Surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter has called for greater transparency in Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and other surveillance technologies to better protect them from hackers in future.
While presenting his Annual Report for 2016-17 to the Home Secretary, Porter said that the risk potential for intrusion on citizens has significantly increased both by lawful operators of surveillance camera systems and those individual or State actors who seek to hack into systems.
Recalling the cyber-attack in Washington DC in January last year that compromised 123 out of 187 security cameras with ransomware, Porter said that surveillance cameras in the UK are not immune from cyber threats. To guard against this threat, his department is now ‘ developing standards for manufacturers, developing buyers guide for surveillance camera systems, training and horizon scanning’.
Porter is also aiming at setting a single benchmark for installers and consultants so that manufacturers will build surveillance equipment as per recognised standards thereby ensuring that high-quality equipment is delivered.
‘Much frustration still exists amongst the public and purchasing community that equipment fails too easily or quickly degrades thereby rendering the equipment obsolete and also more vulnerable to cyber attack,’ he said.
Aside from alerting operators about the risk from hackers and state actors, Porter also called for more responsibility from operators to ensure that such systems are not used in a way that they compromise the privacy of citizens.
‘Bad surveillance is conducted when these standards are absent, where the public lacks confidence in its presence and operation, and are confused about where accountability for its use and regulatory accountability lies,’ he warned.
Back in 2015, Joseph Cannataci, the UN’s first-ever privacy chief, had described Britain’s surveillance laws as having one of the weakest global oversights, terming them ‘worse than Orwell’. His mission at that time was to curb “controlling technology that is ever-developing possibly more sinister capabilities”.