By Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor
Hidden microphones mounted on CCTV cameras which can eavesdrop on private conversations in the street are set to be outlawed, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.
Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, believes that the cameras are a serious breach of civil liberties.
Britain has 4.5million CCTV cameras which capture the average person around 300 times a day.
This week Mr Thomas will launch a new code of practice and declare that no organisation should be able to monitor or store private conversations, claiming that such activities are “highly intrusive”.
Whitehall sources said last night that he has the strong backing of ministers. The ruling is also likely to be hailed by civil liberties campaigners.
A spokesman for Mr Thomas said that the use of cameras to record voices would be allowed only in “extremely special circumstances” such as the detection of crime.
Earlier this month, a court heard how a microphone mounted on a CCTV device recorded the groans of father-of-three Mark Witherall, 47, as he was beaten and left to die by raiders after catching them at his house in Whitstable, Kent.
In another case, a microphone on a CCTV camera picked up the screams of a woman and her child who were attacked and abused last year by a would-be arsonist at their home in Lancashire.
Some councils, including Westminster in London, began testing the new cameras last year and more are reported to be keen on using them in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics. Many are fitted with microphones which can “bug” conversations up to 100 yards away.
Mr Thomas’s ruling will also affect employers who seek to eavesdrop on private conversations between staff. David Blunkett, the former home secretary, attacked CCTV microphones last year, saying: “I don’t want microphones recording me.”
The concession from ministers comes as they face a Commons rebellion on a separate civil liberties issue over plans to increase from 28 to 42 the number of days police can hold terror suspects without charge.
Some Labour MPs are expected to back opposition parties in voting against the increase, which was unveiled in the Counter Terrorism Bill last week.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, has vowed to fight it but in what some MPs see as a step towards a compromise, he offered to help ministers with “technical problems” on the operation of the Civil Contingencies Act, under which suspects could be held for 30 extra days in a state of emergency.