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Security cameras must watch out for the law

Keep a close watch on your security camera

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Installing a CCTV security camera

Installing a CCTV security system makes common sense for those wishing to protect home and business.

But as well as the technical issues there are data management questions to consider for anyone thinking of recording and storing images.

The Data Protection Act was brought in in 1988 to protect the public against intrusion into private and public lives by electronic devices.

Some of the Act's main provisions are to control how your personal information is used by organisations, businesses or the government.

Everyone responsible for collecting, storing and using data has to follow strict rules such as making sure the information is used fairly and lawfully; for a limited stated purpose; in a way that is relevant to the task; retained for no longer than necessary and kept safe and secure.

Most uses of surveillance cameras are covered by the Data Protection Act, and CCTV operators have a set of rules that must be followed when the gather, store or hand over images of individuals.

Signs of the times

Many homeowners and business proprietors will not realise that they must let the public know if they are using CCTV to monitor people.

Signs are the most obvious way to do this, but they must be clearly visible and readable, and they should give details of the organisation operating the system if this is not evident.

CCTV cameras should not installed in areas where people might normally expect privacy such as shower rooms or toilets and the recording of conversations would not usually be allowed. Exceptions to this would be a police custody suite or courtroom.

Many CCTV systems now come with audio facilities. Audio recording is considered particularly intrusive and in the vast majority of cases, the function should be disabled.

Captured on camera

CCTV operators must adopt certain guidelines and have a clear idea of how to use the system and what to do with any captured images, such as who is allowed to view them.

It is usually a good idea for a business to make sure someone in the organisation has responsibility for any captured images with powers to decide when and where cameras are used and who has access to images.

Anyone who believes they have been caught on camera has the right to see the pictures and to ask for a copy of them. The operator must provide the images within 40 days and cannot charge more than £10 for doing so.

Operators are also legally barred from disclosing images of identifiable people to the media, putting them on the internet or handing them to another organisation.

Your company may need to hand over CCTV images for legal reasons, to the police for example, but that organisation must then adhere to the Data Protection Act when handling the images.

Camera on my property

Surveillance cameras installed on your property are usually exempt from the Data Protection Act but only if there is no possibility of taking pictures of people outside the property such as your neighbour's garden or the street.

The guiding principle when installing CCTV cameras is to deploy them in a responsible way that protects both the property and the privacy of others.

When installing CCTV cameras, it is crucial to consider exactly which areas to cover and to ensure safeguards are in place that prevent cameras being misused.

And finally

There is more to installing a surveillance camera system than may, at first, be thought, and it is usually best to get a professional to at least advise, if not deploy your CCTV system whether it is for home or business,

Regardless of whether your CCTV system is exempt from the Data Protection Act, the government recommends that you use security cameras in a responsible way to protect the privacy of others as well as to protect your property.

More details of the Data Protection Act and how it could affect you may be found on the government ICO website.

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