NSW Premier vows to rewrite laws to make CCTV legal

SHOALHAVEN City Council will most likely wait for the state government to show its hand before appealing the decision that forced the shutdown Nowra’s CCTV cameras.

Council was ordered by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal to turn off its 18 cameras in the Nowra CBD.

In a decision handed down on Thursday afternoon the tribunal ordered council to refrain from any conduct or action in contravention of an information protection principle or a privacy code of practice.

Council was ordered to apologise in writing to the man who brought the action, Adam Bonner, for its breaches and advise him of steps to be taken to remove the possibility of similar breaches in the future.

The decision was handed down in Privacy Awareness Week.

All up, 129 reasons were given by the tribunal for the decision including that expert evidence suggests that CCTV did little to prevent crime. 

It said the data available for the Nowra CBD supported Mr Bonner’s argument that council had not demonstrated filming people in the Nowra CBD was reasonably necessary to prevent crime. 

“In fact, available data suggests that since the council’s CCTV program was implemented crime has increased in the Nowra CBD in the categories of assaults, break and enters and malicious damage,” the tribunal finding said.

Mr Bonner said the judgment in section 11 regarding the collection of people’s individual personal information was a major victory.

“It puts both this council and others on notice regarding the collection of people’s personal information if the collection is excessive or inaccurate.

“It said council violated this section and that sets a precedent.

“For many years, even before I started this whole action back in 2009, I had always believed in a free and fair society that a person should have to consent to have their personal information be collected and stored by the state.

“They should be able to walk the street without having their personal information collected. People should be allowed to have their anonymity.”

He said council had been told time and again that the images being produced by the Junction Street cameras were inadequate, something that was also mentioned in the judgment.

“The information they are collecting is terrible, blurry, you can’t make out faces, yet council maintained they were being used as crime prevention tools,” he said.

“The judgment also stated that crime in the area has actually increased since the cameras were installed.

“Council was determined to fight the case and waste ratepayers’ money on the suggestion the cameras were for crime prevention.

“Council has spent [thousands of dollars] to fight me using a very expensive legal team from Sydney when they didn’t need to do that.

“This could have all been resolved long ago and why didn’t they use their own in-house legal team?”

Mr Bonner said he had heard talk of a possible appeal.

“If council wants to take that tactic, two can play at that game, there are other matters we were not successful with in this case that we could challenge,” he said.

“It would be a waste of further tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.

“Hopefully council learns from this experience.

“It also sends a message to councils and all the people out there in NSW in general regarding the excessive amount of information that is collected on them by the state.

“People have rights to protection under the privacy Act.”

Mr Bonner said the apology letter council also has to write should not be to him but to the local ratepayers for wasting their money.

“It shouldn’t come from this council or its staff, it should come from the previous mayor and deputy mayor who are now in state government who should be held accountable for pushing this through,” he said.

“They forced this upon the Shoalhaven even though it was very clear the technology they were going to use was woefully inadequate.”

Shoalhaven City Council installed 18 CCTV cameras in the Nowra CBD in 2010 with $150,000 in federal funding. The cameras record images and those images are retained on a computer hard drive at Nowra Police Station.

Council to wait for state decision

Shoalhaven City Council Mayor, councillor Joanna Gash said the issue of an appeal would be discussed in council today.

“I understand Barry O’Farrell has said it [the legislation] is going to be changed.

“I also believe that on Tuesday Member for Kiama Gareth Ward might be presenting a private member’s bill to parliament on the issue.

 “I think we will probably hold off on appealing the decision and spending more money. I think we will wait and see what the state government does.

Cr Gash said she thinks changes being made at state level were imminent.

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