CCTV Now Overrides Privacy Laws
Just how far can Closed Circuit Television cameras intrude upon your privacy? They are everywhere – CCTV cameras watching traffic, building security, on ATMs, street and shopping centres, in elevators, airports and train stations, on buses, and even inside offices and businesses keeping an eye on employees and visitors alike.
So where are the limits to Big Brother watching you? Where does the public good gained from trying to prevent crime end, and the ever-watching CCTV breaches laws protecting your privacy?
The question came to a head recently when a local resident complained that the council’s new CCTV cameras in Nowra breached the privacy of law-abiding residents.
The resident argued before the Administrative Decisions Tribunal it was not the council’s role to collect evidence for the purpose of prosecuting crime. He produced figures showing crime had actually increased after the cameras were installed.
The tribunal upheld the complaint, ruling signage near the cameras did not adequately inform people about the privacy implications. It ruled the council had not established filming people was ‘reasonably necessary’ to prevent crime.
The council immediately turned off its cameras. The NSW Government was aghast. The decision could lead to challenges for all CCTV cameras across the State. The government promptly changed the Privacy and Personal Information Act 1998 to exempt councils from privacy laws allowing them to use cameras in public places to collect personal information and to pass that information to police.
There is no doubt CCTV can help police solve crimes. Just look at the Boston bombings. They may prevent crimes by identifying wanted suspects. They may deter crimes by people not wanting to be spotted.
But what if you are not breaking the law? What if you are filmed kissing a person who is not your spouse? What if it captures you doing something embarrassing rather than illegal?
The rules are people have to be told they may be filmed by CCTV, the footage only used to identify crimes occurring within the CCTV area, the film cannot be used to monitor or track individuals who have not obviously been involved in a crime or for general intelligence gathering.
But the law is tricky when it comes to a neighbour’s security camera looking into your garden. It depends on whether it can see into your home.
Privacy laws are complex and anyone with privacy concerns relating to CCTV or security cameras would be wise to seek legal advice.