Privacy and Protection: the Legality of Your CCTV Security System

For many property owners, whether private or commercial, CCTV is now a necessary installation to maintain safety and security. Acting as both a deterrent to crime and an assistant in solving it where it occurs, these security systems come in many different forms and many different price ranges so that almost anybody who wishes to use one has an option to suit them. But in an age when everybody has access to these recording devices, what happens to the privacy of the subjects of those recordings? In seeking to prevent crime, you must be careful not to venture close to committing one yourself.

Visible Cameras vs. Hidden Cameras

In very basic terms, the law permits recording in spaces regarded as 'public'—which would include, for example, the street outside your home or business. It also permits recording on privately-owned property with the permission of the owner. As such, your CCTV camera is well-covered by this rule. However, some states require that cameras be conspicuous or even signposted; recording people without their knowledge and consent, and when they do not have a reasonable expectation that they may be recorded, may be considered an affront to their privacy rights. To be safe, then, you may wish to put up signage informing passersby that you have CCTV cameras in operation. Such signs aren't uncommon and can be purchased from an assortment of retailers. This may have an additional benefit, too; the more visible your camera system is, the more effective it is as a deterrent.

Audio & Private Conversations

If your recordings contain audio, then you may run into some trouble there. Australian law protects 'private conversation'. How this is defined varies between states, but by and large, this refers to a conversation that you could reasonably perceive as intended to be private. Because of this, conversations had in public spaces do count and are protected, so long as those speaking are not speaking loudly or deliberately drawing attention in some way. Due to this privacy protection, it may be unlawful—or at least ill-advised—for you to record audio, regardless of whether you signpost your intention to do so.

Naming, Shaming and Reporting

Traditionally, the only people that victims would share CCTV footage with were the police. With social media such a dominant force in modern society, however, many victims turn to Facebook or similar platforms to share footage of the crime occurring, hoping to uncover information about the perpetrator or to bring shame to that person. This is extremely murky legal territory. Many CCTV clips don't show the actual crime being committed, but instead document circumstances around the crime that essentially prove the person's guilt. If this is the case, however, then posting your footage online and describing the person as a criminal could leave you open to a libel case. There are countless other scenarios that could get you into hot water, too. As such, it's better to be safe than sorry and refrain from uploading your footage to the internet. Better to let the police follow the case slowly than to risk exacerbating the situation for a quick result.

In short, CCTV is an extremely effective tool, allowing private homeowners and businesses to protect themselves against crime. Undoubtedly, they are a powerful defense—but it is vital that camera owners continue to protect themselves by being careful about how they utilise the footage those cameras collect.