doc

COUNCIL bosses in Southampton have launched an appeal against a privacy watchdog ruling that it was wrong to record all passengers' and drivers' conversations in taxis.

The Information Commissioner said Southampton City Council had “gone too far” in its desire to ensure people's safety and ordered it to stop making it compulsory to record all conversations in taxis and private hire cars by a November 1 deadline.

But the council said the city's taxis will now continue to be required to use the cameras until a public appeal hearing, expected next spring.

About 450 of the 1,000 cars in Southampton now have cameras which continuously record images and audio and cannot be switched off. They cost up to £700, of which cabbies have to pay about £300.

The controversial “taxicam” policy was brought in three years ago, and has already been challenged through the courts by taxi bosses.

While not giving a legal ruling a judge said he said he thought the policy was “not lawful” and that the recording of every conversation was “invasive”, “disproportionate” and a “violation” of the human right to privacy.

The council said its taxi cameras have cross-party support and have been used as evidence in securing convictions against a number of drivers and passengers.

Councillor Jacqui Rayment, deputy leader of Southampton City Council, said: “What has not been acknowledged in the process so far is the lengths we go to protect the privacy of all drivers and passengers.

“No one sees these videos unless there is an incident that needs investigating and in those cases the footage and audio becomes crucial independent evidence.

“The very fact that the cameras capture everything is a valuable deterrent against attacks, both verbal and physical.

She added: “We will continue to review the use of cameras in taxis although the message we are receiving locally is that both drivers and passengers value them.

“This appeal is an opportunity for us to show the court that we are not using them to snoop on innocent activity, but to deter and take action on criminal offences.”