Critics have spoken out against the controversial new CCTV cameras that will record all conversations in Oxford’s taxis. The plan is for all 662 taxis to be fitted with the cameras as part of Oxford Councils video and audio scheme to provide evidence of attacks on drivers and in cases where there may be allegations of driver misconduct.
This is all designed in an attempt to protect the drivers, passengers, and the cabs that are covered with taxi insurance. However, the plan was branded an “absolute invasion of privacy”.
Recordings will not be accessed unless requested by the police or council licensing officers for a specific crime or licensing issue, and recording will begin when the key is turned in the ignition and stop 30 minutes after it is turned off.
Cabbies have reportedly been ordered by the council to have the systems installed by March 2015, whilst all new taxis will need CCTV from April.
The CCTV code of practice, from the Information Commissioner, stated: “CCTV must not be used to record conversations between members of the public as this is highly intrusive.”
It is recommended that audio is routinely switched off, with systems potentially triggered by excessive levels of noise.
Director of privacy campaign group, Big Brother Watch, Nick Pickles, has said that most passengers would be “horrified” by the plan.
Mr Pickles has been quoted saying: “It is an absolute invasion of privacy. It is a disproportionate response to invade the privacy of everybody who uses their taxis.”
Oxford Council spokesman, Louisa Dean, has commented: “The risk of intrusion is acceptable compared to the public safety benefits. In any event, the level of privacy reasonably to be expected in a licensed vehicle is far lower than that expected in the privacy of one’s home or own car.”
Black cab drivers have given a mixed response. Bashir Ahmed argued that Oxford is a safe city before adding: “A lot of people ask the radio be put up and the partition be closed. They are business people, they don’t want their conversation recorded.”
Furthermore, Ziggy Rana has said that it would certainly protect drivers and passengers, though customers “might not be comfortable with it.” He added: “The best thing for them is to not say anything and keep quiet.”
Meanwhile, Mohammed Gulzar stated: “It is an invasion of privacy, I think the customers will not like it.”
Secretary of The City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Cab Association, Alan Woodward, has said that sound recording will be able to provide vital evidence for police and council staff, if necessary, and that it was “just the same” as buses and trains that already record sound and video.
Mr Woodward stated: “Cab drivers have been beat unconscious, we had cabs smashed up, we have had complaints against drivers. Surely they would feel safer if they knew everything in the car was being recorded?”
Mohammed Tahir, a black cab driver, is in favour of the plan, saying: “Sometimes you get the worst passengers and we have been reported (by customers). It is for the safety of the drivers and passengers.”
Whether the plan stays in place remains to be seen at this stage.