Courts to accept digital evidence

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Pictures and images produced from digital technology can be safely used as evidence in courts, a House of Lords committee said yesterday.

But the Lords select committee on science and technology called for greater control over closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems operating in public places.

It also warned that public confidence in CCTV systems would be damaged if images from them were passed too often to television companies for entertainment use.

The Lords inquiry, which took evidence from the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "We were pleased to find that digital images, which we initially thought might create difficulties for the courts, do not." But it recommended new measures to authenticate the images.

Chaired by Lord Craig of Radley, the committee also suggested there should be a uniform policy on the control and release of CCTV images from publicly owned surveillance systems. It quoted a case where images of a man attempting to commit suicide were released by Brentwood Council to the BBC, prompting the man to seek a judicial review. The High Court, however, found there had been no breach of the law.

The committee also said it had learned that police authorities might be paid by the media for tapes used in a variety of television programmes.

The human rights organisation Justice welcomed the committee's call for tighter controls. Its senior legal officer, Madeleine Colvin, said: "CCTV is more than a tool for reducing crime. It also provides the ability to watch and record people in public places. It therefore raises important civil liberties issues."