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Many conversations in the back of cabs are not only private but intimate. Often a decision to take a cab is prompted by being the worse for wear. Yet astonishingly in some places these conversations are recorded. The Information Commissioner Christoper Graham has ordered Labour-run Southamton City Council to end the requirement of the taxi drivers they licence to record all conversations taking place in their cab.

The ICO has ruled the council’s policy breaches the Data Protection Act – they have delivered the same verdict on Oxford City Council. This followed a campaign by Big Brother Watch.

While the councils said the measures improved safety, the ICO concluded that the breach of privacy was disproportionate.

Mr Graham, said:

“By requiring taxi operators to record all conversations and images while the vehicles are in use, Southampton City Council have gone too far.

“We recognise the Council’s desire to ensure the safety of passengers and drivers but this has to be balanced against the degree of privacy that most people would reasonably expect in the back of a taxi cab. It is only right that the privacy of drivers and passengers is respected. This is particularly important as many drivers will use their vehicles outside work. While CCTV can be used in taxis, local authorities must be sensible about the extent to which they mandate its use, particularly when audio recording is involved.

“We hope this action sends a clear message to local authorities that they must properly consider all the legal obligations on them before requiring the installation of CCTV or similar equipment and
that audio recording should be very much the exception, rather than the rule."

So while Big Brother can continue watching you he must stop listening to you. There is a balance from the threat to our liberty from crime and the threat to our liberty from an intrusive state. I think that CCTV is
reasonable in public areas but having it in taxis seems unreasonable. It is far more unreasonable to have audio recordings. I suspect that is something most people would understand. Safety is not an absolute,
we go through life taking proportionate risks.

Cllr Jacqui Rayment, Southampton City Council’s deputy leader, doesn't understand this. Rather than accept the council had gone to far she has come out fighting.

She says:

"We are disappointed with this decision, as it is about safety for both the drivers and passengers.

"Data is encrypted, kept very securely and only downloaded if there is a specific complaint against a driver or if the police request access in order to investigate an alleged offence. We are currently taking legal advice on the next steps to take, including appeal."

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