The Oxford City Council has proposed that CCTV be mandatory for all taxis and that every conversion be recorded. This is, presumably, for everyone’s safety.

Such a blanket scheme would seem to breach the Information Commissioner’s code of practice on the issue. It says recording conversations is unlikely to be justified and that sound on CCTV should usually be turned off. It refers to recording in a cab occurring only if a panic button is pressed.

Yet Oxford City Council does not believe it is flouting this code, saying the risk of intrusion is acceptable compared to public safety.

Recording conversations would be justified if assaults, sex attacks or fraud was constantly being committed in our taxis.

The council would like all taxis to be fitted with CCTV by April 2015.

The necessary equipment must be installed by taxi drivers licensed for the first time by 6 April 2012. A panic button must also be fitted.

Cabs already registered will have until April 2015 to get the kit fitted, the council said.

The council said the cameras would run continuously, but only view footage relating to police matters would be reviewed.

Big Brother Watch said it was “a total disregard for civil liberties”.

She said police would only locate footage, stored on a CCTV hard drive for 28 days, if it was needed for a police investigation.

She added: “The risk of intrusion into private conversations has to be balanced against the interests of public safety, both of passengers and drivers.”

While this is presented as a means to provide public safety, the rules are too vague at this point. We do not know when the cameras will be turned on and off, who will be in charge of the storage or who will take complaints from customers. This is before anyone looks at the civil liberties issues concerning CCTV in taxis. There are far too many questions that need to be answered before a scheme such as this is even implemented. Until all concerns are addressed, it’d be best to just sit and say nothing in a taxi, lest any conversation be misinterpreted or used against you later.

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