The rights to access CCTV footage

Having surveillance systems installed is a mean of reassuring deterrence and to have a peace of mind. Like accident insurance, usually we do not wish to use CCTV footages. In the unfortunate event when these captures become important, it is worthwhile to find out how readily are these videos made to us.


UK issued the Data Protection Act of 1998, which enabled members of public to gain access to personal data, including video footages captured by public surveillance cameras. Operators of these cameras; be it from shopping malls, museums, shops, streets, or stations, are expected to surrender the footages within 40 days of requests. Keith Spiller, a local researcher and surveillance expert, decided to put the act into test, in attempting to make requests to the footages in which he had been captured in.


Spiller’s effort was not a straightforward one as some operators claimed that they were not informed by the request, others did not get back to him, and in one case, the delay was so long (after 30 days) that the footages had already been deleted. After sending out 37 letters, making 31 follow-up phone calls, and paying about 60 pounds of administrative fee to get the requests processed, Spiller only managed to get 17 footages in return. Thus, the conclusion was, as the request for footages is not a daily occurrence, thus, when operators were being asked to do so, many of them are not able to response promptly. While the problem of privacy often overshadows the use of surveillance system, the real problem perhaps lay in the readiness of making these footages available when in need.


Similarly, US was not spat by such reality too, as authorities begin to realize that CCTV surveillance cameras are not as powerful as it had been portrayed all these while, since footages may not be easily accessible, US also has not come up with law governing the storage and dissemination of footages. However, some questioned about the possibilities of exploitation continued because there seem to be a gap between how technology had advance and law that is on par with such advancement. Experts suggested that transparency is a way to make the current system more protective.


In Australia, gaining access to CCTV footages mean that the use and disclosure privacy principle is alerted, therefore, whether the footages involved people or not, this act will come into place when the request for CCTV videos had been made. However, there is an interesting case by case basis in executing this law. Prior permission is believed to be unnecessary if the videos were captured in a classroom setting to collect information with regards to students’ behaviors and conducts and also teachers’ abilities in managing these behaviors. Moreover, if footages are obtained in a regular basis, additional permission is also not mandatory. Of course, if the footages are being used by law enforcement agencies such as the Police or Court order, permission is also not required.


However, anything which falls out of the three above categories, requests will be subjected to the privacy law, and will be examined for their reasonability. When such incidence takes place, features of individuals that are easily recognized captured inside the footages may be adequately reduced or removed.


No doubt, surveillance systems are going to continue their existence, as a result, consider these when you will like to obtain CCTV footages, so that no one’s right will be violated – Who will be accessing them, roughly what had been captured, is such disclosure justifiable, do you think there is a way to contact people who had been captured etc.