ALL conversations will be recorded in Oxford’s taxis by controversial new CCTV cameras, which critics last night claimed broke privacy rules.
The plan for the city’s 662 taxis was last night branded an “absolute invasion of privacy”.
But Oxford City Council said the video and audio scheme was vital to provide evidence of attacks on drivers and in cases where there were allegations of driver misconduct.
Recordings would not be accessed unless requested by the police or council licensing officers for a specific crime or licensing issue, it said.
Recording will start when the key is turned in the ignition and stop 30 minutes after it is turned off.
Cabbies have been ordered by the council to have the £460 systems installed by March 2015 and two are currently in operation. All new taxis will need CCTV from April.
The CCTV code of practice from the Information Commissioner – the UK’s data watchdog – says: “CCTV must not be used to record conversations between members of the public as this is highly intrusive.”
It recommends audio is routinely switched off, with systems potentially triggered by excessive noise or a panic button over a specific threat in exceptional circumstances like if a crime is suspected.
Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said most passengers would be “horrified” by the plan.
He said: “It is an absolute invasion of privacy.
“It is a disproportionate response to invade the privacy of everybody who uses their taxis.”
Council spokesman Louisa Dean said: “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.”
Yet while staff had seen figures on the number of assaults on drivers when taking the decision, they no longer had them to provide to the Oxford Mail, she said.
Thames Valley Police said it would take up to a month to compile figures.
Black cab drivers at Oxford Railway Station gave a mixed reaction.
Bashir Ahmed said Oxford was a safe city. He said: “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.”
Ziggy Rana said it would protect drivers and passengers though customers “might not be comfortable with it”. He said: “The best thing for them is to not say anything and keep quiet.”
Mohammed Gulzar said: “It is an invasion of privacy, I think the customers will not like it.”
Alan Woodward, secretary of The City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Cab Association, said sound recordings provided vital evidence for police and council staff.
The system was “just the same” as buses and trains that record sound and video, he added.
Mr Woodward said: “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?”
Black cab driver Mohammed Tahir backed the plan.
He said: “Sometimes you get the worst passengers and we have been reported (by customers). It is for the safety of the drivers and passengers.”
Oxford Bus Company confirmed all the CCTV systems on their buses record sound.
Spokesman Phil Ashworth said: “It is there for the protection of passengers and drivers. We consider it to be extremely effective.”
Stagecoach confirmed last night that the Oxford Tube bus to London does have audio with its CCTV system but the rest of the fleet did not.
Spokesman Chris Child said: “It is not a standard specification for Stagecoach buses and we are trialling it on the Oxford Tube.
“It is a case of analysing the advantages and disadvantages and making a decision based on that.”