What are the legalities around recording audio in the UK?

It may or may not surprise you to know that London is the second most heavily-surveilled city in the world, with over 420,000 security cameras in operation. To put that into some perspective, that’s 400,000 more cameras than third-placed Chicago. So, when people say we’re living in George Orwell’s 1984, they’re not actually exaggerating as much as you might imagine.

However, ten years ago, one little public body made a change to legal guidance that might just be our only hope against descending fully into that terrifying dystopia.

Let’s hear it for the UCO

Back in 2008, the Information Commissioner’s Office (UCO) declared that CCTV should not have the ability to record audio. In bringing in this ruling, the ICO brought CCTV use in line with the 1998 Data Protection Act (replaced, this year, with the 2018 Data Protection Act), which is the same Act that has resulted in the most common question we transcribers hear, ‘Do you give your consent for this interview to be recorded?’

Technically, in the UK, an individual does not need permission to record audio of a conversation they’ve had with others unless they plan to share that recording with a third-party (including a transcription service). However, if there is even the smallest chance of that happening, then legally you need to have the consent of every person who is present for the recording.

An exception to the recording rule

Of course, it would be easy if this was the only rule and everyone had to stick to it. But, as with anything, there are exceptions; ones that were, ironically, first established in 1984.

According to the Telecommunications Act, created in 1984 upon the privatisation of BT, and the updated Regulation Investigatory Powers Act of 2000, nicknamed ‘the snooper’s charter’, businesses have the right to record conversations if they establish facts, ensure regulatory compliance, and/or demonstrate standards that are achieved or need to be achieved by training. These conversations must also be relevant to the business, and said business must ensure that reasonable efforts have been made to guarantee all parties involved are aware of the existence of the recording. This last part is the reason we’ve all got so used to hearing that ‘Calls will be recorded for training purposes’ when we’re trying
to get through to the bank.

The rules around employees recording meetings or disciplinary hearings are less clear, particularly with regard to those working for public bodies. Because of this, the Employment Tribunal suggests that businesses prohibit this practice in employment contracts, stating that the fear of being recorded might impact on the possibility of an open and fair dialogue.

All’s fair in love and recordings

In the same vein, if undisclosed recordings of these meetings are brought as evidence to trial for cases such as unfair dismissal, judges can look down on them because they were obtained in an unfair manner. The use of such recordings can even have an effect on final judgements.

The government also has its own set of rules that, unsurprisingly, go above and beyond what the rest of us lowly peasants can lawfully get away with, but I think we’ve fuelled the paranoia enough for this week. Needless to say, Big Brother is watching you.


Written by Transcriber Lydia

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