Tue | Dec 1, 2020

Andrea Martin-Swaby | CCTV surveillance: Use it responsibly

Published:Friday | June 21, 2019 | 12:00 AM

An individual has the right to protect their person and property. Everyone strives to achieve peace of mind. In light of this, most right-thinking people take their personal safety seriously. Today, CCTV surveillance is increasingly being utilised to improve security. The technology is so advanced that the property under surveillance can be monitored remotely. This is clearly one of the benefits of using the technology; it is a valuable tool not only for law enforcement but for private citizens. However, while enhancing personal security, the technology must be used responsibly. Each CCTV operator must balance their quest to improve security with the concomitant need to respect the privacy of others.

BENEFITS OF CCTV

What is the value of CCTV surveillance? Such surveillance may act as a deterrent to criminal activity and may also be used in solving crimes. It can bolster the overall security of a business or the home environment. As stated in a previous article, studies have also revealed how beneficial CCTV surveillance is to criminal investigations. In April 2017, Matthew Ashby published the findings of a study which assessed its value at railway stations within the United Kingdom (UK). This study revealed that CCTV surveillance provided useful evidence in 65 per cent of criminal cases where footage was available. Additionally, in March 2015, the police commissioner of the UK, Bernard Hogan Howe, told the British populace that CCTV cameras should be installed by homeowners and businesses to help detectives solve crimes in the age of austerity.

PRIVACY INTERESTS

However, in using CCTV surveillance, a caution should be issued. Video surveillance subjects persons to scrutiny while they traverse private and public spaces where CCTV is installed, regardless of whether they have done anything wrong.

Any CCTV surveillance system will largely capture the lawful activities of citizens. Therefore, at the very least, it circumscribes the expectation of privacy and anonymity of citizens.

In light of this, a serious concern for all persons who are scrutinised by any camera system is that the footage is ONLY used to enhance security and nothing else. Therefore, where the surveillance system captures a criminal incident, the footage may be used to assist law enforcement in solving the crime. However, where it merely depicts persons going about their lawful business, it would be particularly unwise to carelessly distribute the footage on social media.

In Jamaica, we have no rules and regulations which specifically address the use of CCTV surveillance in domestic/private spaces. However, in the UK, the government issued guidelines to all citizens who use CCTV systems in their homes. These guidelines were published in December 2015.

They urge CCTV users to take responsibility for the images which are captured. It states that they are responsible for all the information that is recorded by the system and that this information should not be used for any other purpose than protecting property. The guidelines further warn users that it is inappropriate to share such recordings on social media.

Regardless of whether similar guidelines exist in Jamaica, each citizen has a right to privacy. In the recent ‘National Identification System’ judgment, the court, in discussing the right to privacy, emphasised that this right is critical to our existence as human beings. It ensures that each person can lead a life of dignity regardless of race, class or creed.

The right to privacy is not absolute; however, it is among those rights which are sacrosanct. Therefore, individuals may install cameras. However, they must exercise care in how they are positioned. It may be entirely inappropriate to position them in a manner which encroaches on your neighbour’s private space, such as their driveways, entrances and exits. If such positioning is inescapable, the user should discuss with his/her neighbour before doing so.

Lastly, do not use the surveillance to spy on persons or their private property. Spying and security are two entirely different concepts.

CCTV systems should only be employed to improve security, and nothing more. The right to privacy is important and must not be disturbed unless it is justifiable to do so in a free and democratic society such as ours. Security may justify installing cameras; privacy requires proper management of these cameras and the footage. Therefore, use the footage as a force for good.

[The views expressed in this article do not constitute legal advice and do not reflect the views of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.]

Andrea Martin-Swaby is the deputy director of public prosecutions and head of the Cybercrime Unit. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.