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What Are Our Human Rights When It Comes to CCTV?

Posted by Hermione Crone
29th September 2015

The UK has a staggering amount of CCTV cameras in proportion to the population. Estimates of their actual number vary but a study by the British Security Industry Association in 2013 estimated the figure to be around 5 million. And with a further 6 million cameras used for private and domestic surveillance, Britons are considered to be the most watched people on Earth.

This has sparked an ongoing human rights debate with many campaigners bemoaning the intrusion into our private lives. There is also a concern over their regulation and how the images are utilised by the government and private companies.

On the other hand, CCTV surveillance systems provide an effective deterrent in some areas and are a vital element in the prosecution of criminal cases. Without their presence, many supporters believe property crime would swiftly rise.

Human Rights

Nevertheless, the most common arguments against the presence of CCTV cameras, especially in their high quantity, revolve around the human rights you have as an innocent citizen. Both government and private surveillance systems can pick up your image and store it without your consent, a notion hard to endure for some.

There are protection laws in place however, predominantly Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which concentrates on our rights to privacy. This is a broad ruling however, and includes many aspects of our personal lives other than just CCTV surveillance.

European rulings make it clear private citizens should have a degree of privacy, but to what extent is up for debate. Laws regarding surveillance are hard to decipher, especially regarding public places such as high streets and shopping centres.

However, when it comes to private property, you have a much stronger right to confidentiality. The homeowner has the right to challenge the local authority if they believe their human rights are being violated in this manner. Likewise, private CCTV cameras cannot be aimed at a neighbour’s property in a way that infringes on their privacy.

In addition, business owners must inform their patrons and members of the public they are be being recorded, usually by displaying clearly visible signs. These signs should identity who is responsible for the surveillance scheme along with contact details.  

Data Protection

When it comes to the images stored by CCTV systems, the 1998 Data Protection Act will apply if the camera is centred on a public space or roads (in relation to vehicle registration plates). Information will usually be safeguarded against misuse and data sharing, providing extra confidence to general members of the public.

The videos obtained should not be kept for longer than necessary, and suitable protective measures ought to be in place to prevent their illegal extraction. Law agencies should be able to access this sensitive information only. However, homeowners who set up CCTV cameras for domestic security are not generally asked to comply with the Data Protection Act.

A high profile case emerged in July 2015 where a police helicopter published an aerial photograph of Michael McIntyre. It was widely seen as an infringement of his human rights and a violation of the CCTV Code of Practice.

Feature image credit: Rachel Collins via Flickr.

Posted by Hermione Crone
29th September 2015