Police report from 2013 reveals many CCTV systems in Scotland near collapse

Police Scotland is pushing for a centralised CCTV network governing all of Scotland’s streets, public spaces and shops following a warning that the majority of its current cameras are unreliable and possibly unlawful.

The single force told Scottish ministers it wants to abolish the current “piecemeal” system of more than 2,800 cameras and replace it with a police-operated national network that uses high definition digital cameras – at a cost of at least £10 million.

The suggestion comes from a confidential 2013 review produced by Police Scotland, published today by The Ferret, that warns many of the CCTV systems in Scotland are near collapse with a significant number being maintained ad hoc at a high cost.

In addition, the document, which was released under freedom of information laws, indicated 16 unnamed local councils have failed to undertake any data-protection audits of their camera networks.

It acknowledges that in a number of areas of the old Grampian force as well as in Renfrewshire, where police tested body cameras, the single force could be in breach of data protection legislation.

In an unredacted version of the report it states: “The management of these devices at a number of different offices is questionable in regards to compliance with the Information Commissionaires Office guidance and legislative requirements.”

Privacy campaigners as well as opposition parties have been alarmed by the call for a single CCTV network as well as the state of the current systems.

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “The Scottish government should follow the UK government and take steps to regulate CCTV cameras to prevent inappropriate surveillance in our community.

“Decent, law-abiding people deserve assurances that someone is watching the watchmen.

“The system needs an urgent overhaul, but I am far from convinced that the proposed national network is the answer, as it poses a number of questions about privacy, especially as it might be used in concert with new, unregulated facial-recognition technology.”

A spokesman for the police said the review had “identified the age of the current equipment and the advances that have been made in technology mean that an injection of capital funding will be required to update the ageing systems.”

However, the Scottish government did not appear to endorse a single CCTV network, saying it was encouraging Police Scotland to work with councils on the issue.

A spokeswoman said: “The detail contained in the Public Space CCTV Review is a matter for Police Scotland who carried out the review.”

According to the review, 80 per cent of the CCTV cameras in public spaces, which does not include hospitals, schools and housing associations, were outdated analogue systems.

Eighty-five per cent of the “matrices”, meaning the TV monitors and control systems that support the cameras were analogue, while 80 per cent relied on analogue communication systems.

As such, the cameras were vulnerable to failure in the event analogue components stopped working.

The report states: “It is clear that an investment into the landscape of public space CCTV is required now at an urgent pace. Systems across the country are already becoming obsolete and redundant.’

It adds: “There is a major piece of work required to turnaround failing systems, and to keep them fit for purpose.”

Share icon
Share this article: