With an estimated 4 to 5.9 million CCTV cameras across Britain, the ubiquity of security cameras can prove extremely helpful to us as citizens.Considering that CCTV footage is admissible as evidence in a court of law, and widely used by police in their investigations, getting hold of CCTV footage can make all the difference for those involved in legal proceedings.
Research by Nottingham Trent University discovered that CCTV footage was useful to police in 65% of their investigations, and in cases where it was found useful, the probability of crimes being solved increased from 23% to 48%. It is not just for legal battles that access to such footage can be helpful; it could also prove an insurance claim if you were involved in an accident. In order to gain access to images captured by CCTV, you will have to request access from the owners of the camera.
Requesting CCTV footage
Under the Data Protection Act 1998, you have the right to request CCTV footage that relates to you or your property, as this may reveal personal information about you and will therefore be classed as personal data. This information includes your whereabouts at a particular time and your car’s registration number.
You are able to request footage from private individuals, companies and public authorities. However, if the footage is needed for the detection and investigation of a crime, or you are concerned that a camera is being used for harassment or anti-social purposes, this can only be handled by the police. In these circumstances you may want to get in touch with your insurer or solicitor, or contact the police directly.
Can you request CCTV footage of someone else?
You are unable to request footage of somebody else. Doing so would breach rights of others to have their own personal data protected under the Data Protection Act, as well as their right to privacy under the Human Rights Act. Only the police can demand such footage.
How do you request CCTV footage?
In order to request CCTV footage of yourself, you will have to send a Subject Access Request (SAR) to the owner of the CCTV system in writing. This of course relies on you being able to identify its owner in the first place. Although this information might be obvious if, for example, the camera is in a shop or the owner’s details are written on a sign attached to it, this may not always be the case.
Once you discern the owner of the camera, you should make clear that you’re requesting information they hold about you under the Data Protection Act, and you will need to provide them with information to help them identify you. This includes the specific date and time the footage was taken, your physical description, and proof of your identity. The CCTV owner must by law provide you with this footage within 40 calendar days, although they can charge you up to £10 for doing so (the maximum amount set by Parliament).
What are the difficulties when requesting CCTV footage?
CCTV owners will usually have to send you a copy of the footage by law, though they can refuse your request for a number of legally valid reasons. One obvious grounds for refusal would be if it puts a criminal investigation at risk. Another reason would be if the CCTV images contain images of others, for the reasons previously discussed. In this situation, camera owners would technically not be able to show you the footage without the permission of all the other people on the recording. However, they could send you an edited version with others’ faces blurred out in order to protect their identities.
Unfortunately, despite the legal entitlement that members of the public have to access CCTV footage of themselves, many operators have proven reluctant to release images. A researcher at the Open University in Milton Keynes wanted to see how obliging CCTV operators were, so he spent a day walking past different CCTV cameras in a city and then submitted Subject Access Requests to each of the operators. Out of the 17 he contacted, only six provided him with the images. In one scenario, when he was seeking footage from a shopping mall CCTV system, the back-and-forth between them lasted so long that by the time the operator had worked out how to get access to the footage, the system’s 30-day automatic data overwrite had deleted it.
How long is CCTV footage kept for?
There are no strict guidelines on how long the owner of a security camera must keep footage, although the police generally recommend a 31 day retention period. Cameras that are placed in areas more likely to capture incidents of serious crime, e.g town centres and nightclubs, are more likely to adhere to this.
All in all, it is generally straightforward to request CCTV footage, with laws in place to ensure that the public have access to personal information about themselves. However, when you consider the difficulties others have faced in trying to have footage released to them, it is arguable that these laws aren’t always enforced stringently enough.