The Information Commission is set to reject police pressure to install CCTV in pubs and clubs.
Drinkers enjoying a quiet pint in their local faced being spied on as police insist on surveillance if landlords want their licences approved.
Pub owners across London have been warned that they must first install cameras if they want police approval on a license application - clubs are being asked to keep records of all revelers as well as fingerprints, owners also have to promise to hand over any footage the police want.
While some have expressed outrage and "serious privacy concerns" the Met insists it will help to fight crime.
The watchdog is calling on new guidelines in a submission to the Home Office, warning that licensing conditions are being used to compel the owners of bars and clubs to install surveillance - they are also concerned about potential police pressure on businesses to retain data for excessive periods.
Information Commissioner intervenes after landlord goes public
The Information Commissioner's Office first intervened in March when a landlord went public over the strong-armed demands by the Met, the police later dropped their case and the licence was granted. The IC said:
"we are concerned at the prospect of landlords being forced into installing CCTV in pubs as a matter of routine in order to meet the terms of a licence."
Nick Gibson told The Guardian how he had taken over the Drapers Arms pub in Islington and found himself required to snoop on his customers:
"I was stunned, to find that the police were prepared to approve – i.e. not fight – our licence on condition that we installed CCTV capturing the head and shoulders of everyone coming into the pub, to be made available to them on request."
Blanket CCTV ruled out - tough code on retailers
Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith said that although ministers had ruled out the use of "blanket" CCTV after the recent consultation on a new code of conduct for alcohol, strict new guidelines to limit police demands were still needed. Speaking to the Evening Standard he said:
"What we are worried about is that businesses are being forced into gathering information for police and the law enforcement agencies
The question is whether we are going too far and is this surveillance at a level that is unacceptable that doesn't justify the benefits. Pubs and clubs should not become information gathering sources for police.
We have built up more and more surveillance of people's lives and it is important that we keep a check on the overall purpose and whether what goes on is proportionate and effective."
'Unofficial' policy - Met's stance
While the policy is unofficial there are more and more reports of people being obliged to install cameras to get their licence.
Scotland Yard say:
"The MPS overall does not have a policy of insisting CCTV is installed within licensed premises before supporting licence applications.
However, individual boroughs may impose blanket rules in support of their objectives to prevent crime and disorder and to assist the investigation of offences when they do occur.
"Likely to breach data protection act" - 'all' Essex premises compelled
"Installing surveillance in pubs to combat specific problems of rowdiness and bad behaviour may be lawful, but blanket measures where there is no history of criminal activity is likely to breach data protection requirements."
Other forces in England are adopting the invasive tactics. There are reports in Essex every licensed premises in the county open after 11pm has to take head shots of customers as they enter the building.