As the use of domestic CCTV systems increases, so does the potential for individuals to fall foul of data protection legislation and the associated punishments.
Communities are increasingly using the benefits of CCTV to make their environments safer.
A prime example of this approach, being the small County Meath town of Duleek, where locals, tired of being viewed as a “soft target” for criminals, to use CCTV as their weapon of choice in fighting back. At first glance, this may seem an admirable approach, locals standing up for their community.
However, when examined more closely, it raises questions of proportionality, effectiveness and legality. Strange as it may seem, data protection legislation provides the same protection to all data subjects irrespective of the activities in which they may be engaged.
Some of the 14 CCTV cameras that have been installed in Duleek. Their use raises questions of proportionality, effectiveness and legality. Photograph: Alan Betson
IT lecturer Robert Waters from Killiney, South Dublin, set up his website crimeconnect.tv after his house had been burgled. He did so, he says, as a warning to other homeowners. Robert also encouraged his fellow victims to share their footage online as it may help to catch those responsible. The burglars, however, were to be the least of Robert’s worries.
In an attempt to raise awareness of his website, Rober contacted a national radio show. However, the publicity he generated may not have been what he intended. Within a short few hours, Robert received an email from The Data Protection Commissioners, instructing him to remove the CCTV footage from his website or face up to €100,000 in fines.
The email read as follows: ”We note the noble intentions of the site to assist in the identification of criminals who were captured on film engaged in criminal acts. This office views a photograph or image of an individual as personal data”.
It further stated, “ a data controller can only process someone’s personal data with their consent under the Data Protection Acts. Furthermore, there is no exemption for the purpose of identifying potential criminals other than a website run by gardai.”
Mr Waters said that the threat of punishment issued by the commissioner had a bigger impact on him than the burglary itself.