CCTV: Know Where You Stand


As a concept, closed-circuit-television (CCTV) originates from Russia. Leon Theremin developed the first rudimentary, manually operated system in 1927, for the purpose of boosting security at the Kremlin in Moscow. It was later developed further by Germany in 1942 and was used to monitor V-2 rocket launches. In those early days, the use of the concept was severely limited by the lack of recording function. This meant that any CCTV system had to be constantly monitored by humans if it was to be at all effective.

The prevalence of CCTV has therefore increased in line with both advancements in recording and storage, and with cost reduction in terms of equipment and installation. Where CCTV was once the privilege of the wealthy – those who could afford security guards to sit and watch monitors, or those who could afford expensive early storage systems – it is now so widespread that it sparks debate around privacy invasion and restrictions of personal freedoms.

The CCTV debate

As is the case with all technology, there are advantages and disadvantages when it comes to CCTV, and this creates vigorous debate. When Leon Theremin invented it in 1927, it was intended as a way of monitoring people as they approached the Kremlin. It was designed as an additional security measure, which allowed security teams to have a closer view of visitors before the point of first interaction – putting distance between on-site personnel and potential aggressors. As the technology developed, it was adapted for other uses, including putting distance between personnel and active V-2 rocket launchpads in Nazi Germany.

Whichever situation the system is used for, however, the intention of safety is always found at the core of the reasoning for its application. This is the case for the use of CCTV in both public and private spaces. The use of CCTV as a deterrent has arisen in direct conjunction with developments in recording and storage facilities – the idea being that the knowledge that one’s image could be saved for posterity is enough to encourage law-abiding behaviour; the knowledge that any criminal activity may be recorded and used as evidence in legal proceedings is enough to discourage such actions. Today, it also proves useful in proving or debunking insurance claims.

But, as its usage and application has increased, so concern about CCTV has also become more focused. Arguments regarding privacy have become more vocal and urgent – particularly in light of the development of facial recognition technology and the much-reported use of mass surveillance in China. In the U.K and the U.S, repeated scandals around the misuse of private data by global corporations and governments alike has created a robust distrust of official attitudes toward the protection of personal freedoms, and the growth of CCTV is a clear lightning rod for those types of concerns.

Where do you stand with CCTV?

As the use of CCTV has become more widespread, and the technology has become more accessible, legislation and guidance have been developed in an effort to find common ground between the advantages and disadvantages of such equipment and systems.

  • CCTV in public areas – Local authorities have installed CCTV throughout most large cities in the United Kingdom, under the auspice of crime prevention, crime prosecution, and an overall reduction in anti-social behaviour – including vandalism, intimidation, and fly-tipping. Indeed, CCTV images are regularly used by the UK police in their investigations, and are often released to the public through television and online media in appeals for information. Recent, high profile instances include the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, with CCTV playing a vital role in piecing together the final movements of Ms Everard, the circumstances of abduction, and the details of the vehicle suspected of being used by her assailant.

CCTV in public spaces – that is, CCTV installed, maintained and used by the police and government – records images constantly, with operators also manually monitoring footage live during strategic periods. Its use, like the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) equipment, is subject to a strict code of practice devised and enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which is an independent body. In government, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner is appointed by the Home Secretary to ensure that the needs of public safety and the requirement for personal freedom are balanced.

You can request copies of CCTV footage of you that has been recorded on a system owned by a public organisation, and they are required to comply with that request within 40 days. They have the option of editing the footage in such a way as to protect the privacy of other people before sending it to you. If the images were recorded on a system that is owned by a commercial entity, such as a shop or place of business, you can make a written request for a copy of the footage, and the operator has the option to charge a small fee for it.

  • Domestic CCTV – The use of CCTV on private domestic property is distinct in law from that used on private commercial property in that data protection laws do not apply, provided the images you are capturing are within the boundary of your own property. If your security camera only records what happens inside the perimeter of your building or garden, then your only obligation is to take responsibility for protecting the privacy of other people. If your camera records images that include areas outside the boundaries of your property, however, then you are required to comply with data protection legislation, including both the Data Protection Act of 2018, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This includes, for example, doorbell cameras that capture space beyond your garden or driveway, such as the pavement or road outside your home.

When installing CCTV on private domestic property, guidance devised by the Information Commissioner’s Office sets out the expectation that you consider the parameters of reasonable usage. Like most instances of dealing with potentially private data, you should ask yourself if it is necessary, if it is legitimate, and whether there is a better way of achieving the objective. This means acknowledging the reason for the installation, which is usually based in security. In which case, are there more effective, less intrusive ways to improve security? If you go ahead with your installation, what is the best way to position the cameras so that the images are restricted to areas inside your boundary, and not invading the privacy of your neighbours or members of the public?

If your private domestic CCTV installation requires you to comply with data protection legislation and you fail to do so, you could face the enforcement of financial penalties by the Information Commissioner’s Office, in addition to potential legal action by any private citizens impacted by your use of the equipment.

Private investigation and CCTV

In the U.K, the field of private investigation is unregulated by local or national authorities. This means that the industry regulates itself, voluntarily, through organisations such as the Association of British Investigators. Such organisations require private investigation firms to adhere to strict codes of ethics and conduct in order to earn accreditation. This is how it is possible to ensure that the private investigator you are working with is professional, reputable, and operating within the law.

In relation to CCTV, private investigators are bound by the same legislation as everybody else, with the same obligation to comply with data protection requirements. It also means that private investigators have the same type of access to CCTV systems as everybody else – having the option to obtain footage from public CCTV systems, and to request it from commercial and private domestic CCTV systems. The difference, for private investigators, is that they can also deploy legal and ethical surveillance technology to help clients with their situations.

For example, if you suspect that your own property is being surveilled, monitored or recorded – perhaps by equipment installed on a neighbouring residence – then a professional private investigation team, such as OpSec Solutions, can use state-of-the-art technology to discover any recording devices or cameras that impact your space and activities. In some cases, where necessary and justified, methods can be used to disable or block such technology.

In the course of business and investigation, private investigators must ensure and document ‘legitimate interest’ in relation to any surveillance activities or use of CCTV footage owned by the local authority, a business, or private individual. This ‘legitimate interest’ test requires the private investigator to determine whether the data gathered from the result of surveillance is of legitimate purpose, is necessary, and balances the interests of all involved. This is particularly important in cases that involve conducting covert surveillance. OpSec Solutions boasts accreditations from the Association of British Investigators, the UK Private Investigators Network, the Institute of Professional Investigators, and the Information Commissioner’s Office, all of which provides assurance that all activities are conducted legally and ethically, and with the protection of privacy upheld through professionalism and the highest quality of customer service. Contact OpSec Solutions today to discuss your CCTV concerns or questions.   

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