A guide to CCTV and the law

A guide to CCTV and the law

While you could spend thousands of pounds on a high-end CCTV system, you can also buy a modern wireless IP cam for as little as £65. This makes it a cost effective way to deter burglars and vandals, who may avoid specifically targeting homes with a visible CCTV system. In addition to potentially safeguarding you from the trauma of having your home burgled, it may also help to keep your insurance premiums down.

Despite the obvious benefits of CCTV systems, they can potentially invade the privacy of other people. In order to balance people’s right to privacy with the necessity for CCTV cameras, the UK Government introduced two pieces of legislation for CCTV systems in 2012 and 2013. The Data Protection Act (DPA) also has consequences for home surveillence camera systems. Here is a guide to the different laws you may need to consider when you install a CCTV system.

First, here are the three main pieces of applicable legislation:

• The Data Protection Act (the DPA)
• The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012
• The Surveillance Camera Code of Practice 2013 (the SCCOP)

The DPA gives people the right to view footage of themselves that has been recorded on a CCTV system, while the SCCOP seeks to balance civil liberties with protecting the public. The latter applies to both domestic and commercial entities, although portions are only relevant to businesses.

Obviously, you would prefer not to spend your time reading all of the above legislation, so this summary will guide you in how to stay within the law. Note that commercial CCTV users are subject to more restrictions than householders, so you may wish to consider getting advice from a CCTV company before installing it in your workplace. For example, businesses need to register with the ICO as CCTV operators, and they are always subject to the DPA, so anyone recorded on your home security camera system has a right to request a copy of it, which you must then supply within 30 days. In a business, it’s generally a good idea to develop policies, procedures and rules for your use of CCTV, and to appoint a person to be responsible for ensuring that abides by all applicable laws. Access to recordings should also be limited to as few staff as possible to prevent possible misuse by other employees.

As a homeowner, you may think it’s a simple matter to install Wi-Fi security cameras around your home. After all, it’s your property, but you do also need to consider the rights of your neighbours. Many people have complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which enforces the relevant legislation, and the police about possibly being spied on using CCTV cameras. You are ultimately responsible for ensuring that your CCTV is installed in a way that agrees with all the relevant legislation.

Note that if your home camera system is limited to your own property, the DPA will not apply. However, even if your system is fully compliant and limited to your own property, your neighbours may still be concerned that it infringes on parts of their property. In such cases, it may be best to avoid a confrontation by showing them how your system works and the exact areas it monitors.

Here are some basic guidelines for when using wireless IP cams or another CCTV system:

1. The first thing you should do is consider why you want a CCTV system and what exactly it will monitor. You can then communicate this to your neighbours and take into account any concerns they have before you install a system. Note that you should also inform visitors about your CCTV system through at least one warning sign.

2. If possible, your camera should minimise the intrusion into neighbours’ properties and ideally be limited to your own property. This is not always possible, however, but you can use a technology called ‘privacy masking’ to obscure sensitive regions from the recording, such as a neighbour’s bedroom window. If you fail to do this, you may be obliged to register with the ICO as a CCTV operator.

3. Older video recordings should be regularly deleted. It’s standard to not keep footage for more than 31 days. Naturally, you need to keep your recordings with restricted access, and you certainly should not be sharing them through social media.

4. Some Wi-Fi security cameras are also capable of recording audio, but you should consider disabling this feature if it would record members of the public having conversations.

5. While this may seem obvious, avoid installing wireless IP cams in sensitive locations like the toilet.

6. You should only be considering CCTV with the intention of protecting your property—there is no other legitimate reason.

7. If you rent your home, get permission from your landlord before installing anything.

8. Before you install a wireless camera system for CCTV purposes, make sure that you are well acquainted with how it works. This well help you avoid inadvertently doing something wrong. You should also ensure that your system has enough storage space for your needs.

9. Once installed, make sure the time and date are set correctly.

In general, you should be respectful of neighbours and passersby when locating your cameras. In particular, a ruling by the European Union has meant that domestic users are now subject to the Data Protection Act if they record areas outside their properties, such as the pavement. This does not mean you cannot install a wireless IP camera, but if you really cannot avoid recording public areas, you can ask the ICO for advice first.

Following the ruling, the ICO issued additional guidance that reads:

“Operators must operate within the law, for instance by making sure that their use and the siting of cameras is well justified, that the information they are collecting is not excessive, that it is only kept until it is no longer required and that it is kept secure.”

With careful planning and consideration, you can protect your property while staying on the right side of the law and not upsetting your neighbours.

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