A British watchdog agency has ordered the Southampton City Council to stop mandatory recording of passenger conversations. In August 2009, the council began requiring taxis to install CCTV equipment in order to constantly record images and audio of passengers and drivers. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has issued an enforcement notice to prevent these practices, which it claims are a breach of the Data Protection Act, and the council has until November 1st to comply with this order.
The Data Protection Act states that organizations can only collect personal data when doing so is both fair and lawful, and this is not the first time the ICO has taken steps to enforce the policy. Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch filed a complaint with the ICO in November of last year when the city of Oxford attempted to outfit taxis with CCTV systems to record both video and audio. The plans were dropped as of late May, according to Big Brother Watch.
Information commissioner Christopher Graham says that the decision to outfit cabs with audio recording equipment is a step too far, and that while council looks ensure the safety of passengers and drivers, privacy concerns must also be considered. He also maintains that "audio recording should be very much the exception, rather than the rule" and suggests that it should only be used in locations with many serious incidents and the recording mechanism should be triggered by a specific threat.