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Closed circuit television (CCTV) systems have been set up in many towns and cities, usually by local authorities and often in partnership with the police. Despite its prevalence CCTV is still not regulated expressly by statute. Although as a rule footage of you caught by CCTV cameras on a public street, where you are just a ‘face in the crowd’ will not be considered to engage your right to privacy, as protected by Article 8 of the Convention, in some circumstances the use of CCTV footage that allows you to be identified and which reveals something private about you may engage your Article 8 rights. So in a notable case the European Court of Human Rights held that publishing CCTV footage that showed the applicant attempting to commit suicide breach his private life, even though the footage was taken from a CCTV camera in a public street.
Users of CCTV systems by private or public bodies may also be subject to the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). The DPA covers information that relates to an individual. Until recently, the DPA was thought to cover most CCTV use as it related to individuals who were captured on camera. However, a recent Court of Appeal case has shown that the scope of the DPA is far narrower than was previously thought. It is now clear that only certain CCTV activities are covered. The court decided that for information to relate to an individual, it had to affect their privacy. To help judge this, the court decided that two matters were important: (1) a person had to be the focus of the information and (2) the information must tell you something significant about them. Whether or not the DPA covers a CCTV system thus depends on how it is used. If a particular person is intended to be the focus of CCTV and the information from the CCTV tells one something significant about that person, the data from the CCTV are likely to be covered by the DPA and the operator’s use of CCTV must comply with the provisions of the DPA.
Basic CCTV systems, such as those in a shop for security purposes, are now unlikely to be covered provided that the operator is not using the images for checking on staff. If, however, the CCTV is used remotely to zoom in on people, or for monitoring particular individuals, or the film recorded is used for anything other than for providing to law enforcement bodies, then the CCTV is likely to be covered by the DPA. The Information Commissioner has issued additional CCTV guidance in light of the Court of Appeal case.