When It's Not Ok To Use Surveillance Cameras - Essential Do's And Don'ts

We live in an increasingly monitored world, where CCTV cameras point at practically every corner. There are laws relating to the use of CCTV, which stipulate that all of these cameras must be used for a very specific purpose – for example, ensuring public safety or gathering evidence for crimes committed in public.

However, members of the public aren’t always clear on when they can and can’t be using CCTV surveillance cameras.  The reasons for installing a camera, where you point it and how it affects other people are all important considerations to ensure you don’t fall foul of the law. What you do with the footage afterwards is also very important.

To ensure that you’re not breaching anyone’s privacy or breaking the law with your use of surveillance cameras, here are some handy dos and don’ts to remember…

Don’t use them in toilets, showers or changing rooms

These are all areas where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, and this is very important when it comes to the laws surrounding CCTV camera use. When a person uses a bathroom or a changing room, these are generally private, lockable spaces where the user expects complete privacy. A camera in these spaces breaches UK surveillance law. You simply would not be able to justify their use, leading to accusations that the cameras were simply there to spy on people.

There are of course understandable reasons why you may want to keep an eye on these spaces, such as in an office or a retail space. For example, if you suspect that someone is stealing and retreating to these private spaces to conceal the stolen goods. However, even if you do suspect this, you cannot use cameras to catch thieves or shoplifters in these spaces. Any footage you gathered could not be used as evidence in a legal case and could result in you yourself facing prosecution for breaching UK surveillance law.  

Do consider other people’s privacy

There are other circumstances in which you need to keep the principle rule about privacy in mind. You can use surveillance cameras to protect your home or business, but you must consider the impact and effect they will have on your neighbours and other people.

For example, if you are worried about burglars and install a security camera on your property. If you don’t get the angle right, your camera could be pointing right into the living room of your neighbours, or over the fence down to your neighbour’s yard. In this way, you could be accused of spying on your neighbours or at least violating their right to privacy in their home – even if you don’t realise or intend it.

Do be very careful with using cameras in Airbnb and holiday rental properties

If you have a holiday rental property, it’s understandable to be worried about it being damaged or mistreated. You have a new set of strangers coming to stay every weekend, so you may consider giving yourself peace of mind by installing cameras. You must be very careful with using cameras in these spaces, making sure to follow these rules:

  • Disclose your camera use to guests or to a listings site like Airbnb
  • Disclose this information before guests book, or they could be entitled to cancel with a full refund
  • Never use cameras in private spaces such as bathrooms or bedrooms, even if you have disclosed the information about your cameras in advance
  • Remember that you need to disclose other surveillance devices such as voice recorders as well as cameras.

There has been a rise in recent years in reports and stories in the press about secret cameras found in Airbnb properties, and not all devices have been placed for the security of the property. For example, in a recent story a couple staying at an Airbnb in Florida found a hidden camera in the smoke detector on the ceiling. The camera was pointing right down at the bed, leading to the inescapable conclusion that this was ‘video voyeurism’ and the property owner was arrested.

Stories like this have quite naturally led to a certain degree of distrust by guests worried about their privacy in holiday rentals, so it could perhaps be best to put trust in your guests and avoid using cameras on your holiday property altogether.

Do read this guide to using security cameras at home

In most cases, security cameras are used to protect homes without issue.  This doesn’t mean though that disputes with neighbours don’t happen, as they do fairly often. This is why it is important to be hyper-vigilant about your camera use, making sure to follow the guidance about using CCTV at home down to the letter. You can read the government’s guidance about domestic CCTV here, but it’s essential points include:

  • Thinking carefully about your reasons for getting a CCTV system and perhaps trying other solutions first
  • Considering the privacy of others when setting up the system, thinking about the position, angle and range of the camera
  • Informing your neighbours about the new system and perhaps putting a sign up to inform people that you are recording
  • Checking your system regularly to make sure it still points at the right spot and records the right images
  • Taking responsibility for the storage and safe keeping footage, not using it for any purpose other than protecting your property and deleting it when no longer needed.
  • Ensuring that your camera system is properly maintained
  • Providing the police with footage from your camera to be used as evidence if necessary, so ensuring that the time and date stamp on your recording is always accurate.

On a final but crucial note, if your camera records footage that extends outside of the boundaries of your property, it is then subject to the rules of the Data Protection Act 2018. This makes it even more important to ensure that footage is secured, deleted when not used and not sold or shared with any third party.