Why your cctv system could be breaking the law

CCTV installation and usage must comply with data protection legislation
CCTV installation and usage must comply with data protection legislation

Theresa Murphy

Q I live alone on my farm in the west of Ireland and as I get older I am becoming more nervous about the risk of intruders.

Many farms have had machinery stolen during the night in my locality and I am fearful that I may be a target.

I have been advised to put up CCTV cameras to deter burglars and also that I must comply with some rules for this footage to be useful.

Can you please advise?

Theresa Murphy replies:

There are a number of measures that you can employ to reduce the risk of being a target for this type of crime and CCTV is a well tried and tested method.

CCTV usage must comply with data protection legislation.

CCTV infringes the privacy of the people captured in the images so there must be a genuine reason for installing a CCTV system.

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Installing CCTV on your farm

If you are considering installing such a system, a sign stating that CCTV is in operation must be displayed in a prominent position.

CCTV systems have the capacity to recognise faces. They may also be capable of recording both images and sounds. Unless CCTV systems are used with proper care and consideration, they can give rise to concern that an individual's 'private space' is being unreasonably invaded.

Recognisable images captured by CCTV systems are "personal data".

They are subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Acts. If you are the person in control of the CCTV system or the images that it produces then you are considered a 'data controller'.

The data controller should be able to justify why they are collecting or using personal data.

A system used to control the perimeter of a building for security purposes will usually be easy to justify.

So for example, on your farm, a CCTV system which shows your farm yard and sheds would likely be easy to justify.

The use of CCTV systems in other circumstances, for example, to constantly monitor employees, customers or neighbours or passers-by can be more difficult to justify and could involve a breach of the Data Protection legislation.

If a data controller is satisfied that it can justify installing a CCTV system, it must consider what it will be used for and if these uses are reasonable.

Security of a premises or other property is probably the most common use of a CCTV system. CCTV will typically be used to capture images of intruders or potential theft.

These type of uses are likely to meet the test of proportionality. If the CCTV monitoring is for health and safety reasons, a data controller would need to demonstrate that monitoring is proportionate in addressing health and safety issues that had arisen prior to the installation of the system.

Recording of a public space, even partially, or when recording is directed outwards from the private home, may not be regarded as a 'personal or household' activity for the purposes of the Data Protection legislation.

A neighbour may object to images of her/his property being recorded and could take a civil legal action if their right to privacy is infringed by the placement of a CCTV camera which records their property.

CCTV in the workplace

If your farm is a workplace as a result of having even a part time employee, there are additional factors to consider before installing CCTV.

Employers may use CCTV to monitor the workplace for various reasons.

If CCTV is installed in a workplace, the employer should use signage to inform employees its presence and explain the purpose for which they are installed.

Under the Data Protection Acts, if your employer informed you that the CCTV cameras were installed to prevent theft from the workplace, the CCTV footage cannot be used for another purpose such as recording the entry and exit of employees from the workplace.

Covert CCTV

The use of recording mechanisms to obtain data without an individual's knowledge is generally unlawful.

Covert surveillance is normally only permitted on a case by case basis where the data is kept for the purposes of preventing, detecting or investigating offences, or apprehending or prosecuting offenders.

You should inform the gardaí before engaging in this.

If the surveillance is intended to prevent burglaries or farm machinery theft, unconcealed cameras may be considered to be a more appropriate measure, and less invasive of individual privacy.

As best practice, it is recommended that a written CCTV policy should be in place and should include the following information;

  • the identity of the data controller;
  • the purposes for which data are processed;
  • any third parties to whom the data may be supplied.
  • How to make an access request
  • Retention period for CCTV
  • Security arrangements for CCTV

Notification of CCTV usage can usually be achieved by placing easily read and well-lit signs in prominent positions. A sign at all entrances will normally suffice.

Use of CCTV BY Gardai

There is a distinction between a request by the gardaí to view CCTV footage and to download copies of CCTV footage.

In general, a request to simply view footage on the premises of a data controller would not raise any specific concerns from a data protection perspective.

However a written request should be made if a member of the gardaí is to be allowed to download some of the CCTV images. It should state that the images are being requested for the purposes of the investigation of a crime.

Any person whose image is recorded on a CCTV system has a right to seek and be supplied with a copy of their own personal data from the footage.

To exercise that right, a person must make an application in writing. The data controller may charge up to €6.35 for responding to such a request and must respond within 40 days.

This article is intended as a general guide only. You should seek individual legal advice in relation to your circumstances.

Theresa Murphy is a barrister based in Galway.

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