Public and CCTV

Personal filming of people in public places is not subject to any legal restrictions, but the problem goes much wider than that. Despite the explosion in the use of CCTV cameras in the UK by both public and private bodies, there are still no statutory rules which apply specifically to the use of CCTV cameras – even those used by the police or other public bodies. The coalition government has promised to rectify this, but in the meantime we can only rely on the Data Protection Act 1998 and article 8 of the European convention on human rights (the right to respect for private and family life), both of which have played an important role in providing some regulation but which have inevitable limitations in this context.

CCTV will only be subject to the DPA if the footage captured “relates to living individuals who can be identified” from it. Therefore fixed cameras in city centres, which simply capture crowds of unidentifiable individuals in a particular area, would not be subject to the DPA. Cameras with remote zoom functions, though, probably would, as would cameras used by businesses or individuals for private security purposes.

The DPA contains an exemption for domestic use, however, so a householder who has a camera on their property for their own personal use would not be covered by the DPA even if the camera overlooks the street or other public areas near their home. This exemption also applies to recreational use, eg by using a mobile phone or camcorder.

If the DPA does apply, the CCTV operator will be required to do a number of things:

Register as a data controller with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Put up signs notifying people that CCTV is in use and who operates it.

Give any individual who requests it copies of footage of them (for a charge of up to £10).

Ensure that any footage stored is kept for no longer than necessary for the purposes for which it is obtained.

Ensure that footage is not disclosed to anyone else without the consent of the individuals shown in it unless it is for a reason permitted under the DPA, such as the prevention or detection of crime.

The information commissioner has issued a code of practice for CCTV operators.

In addition to the obligations under the DPA, the Human Rights Act requires any public authority using CCTV cameras to do so compatibly with Article 8 of the convention. Although filming of individuals in a public place will not usually be considered to engage their right to privacy, the courts have said that it may do in certain circumstances. In the case of Wood v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, the court of appeal found that article 8 was engaged by overt photography by the police in a public place because, on the particular facts: “The police action, unexplained at the time it happened and carrying as it did the implication that the images would be kept and used, is a sufficient intrusion by the state into the individual’s own space, his integrity, as to amount to a prima facie violation of article 8(1).” Liberty argues that the controversial CCTV and ANPR scheme in Birmingham, which is now under review after it was revealed that it had been funded by the counter terrorism branch of Acpo, engages article 8 because of the sheer number of cameras and the implication that residents were being treated as terrorism suspects.

Article 8 provides much greater protection when it comes to publication of images of individuals without their consent. Not only must any publication comply with the provisions of the DPA, it will only be lawful if it is proportionate and there is a pressing social need to publish. In a case which Liberty took to the European court of human rights, it was held that publishing CCTV footage that showed the applicant attempting to commit suicide violated article 8, even though the footage was taken from a CCTV camera in a public street.

The combination of the massive expansion in CCTV use and the ever-easier upload of video footage to the internet is a dangerous one. While cat lovers may have little sympathy for the woman in this particular clip, proper regulation of this area is long overdue.