Illegal To Post Your CCTV Footage In IrelandBy: IPVM Team, Published on Feb 19, 2014
Surveillance videos and images are regularly posted publicly. They're entertaining, shocking and even funny, but they also have a real impact in solving crimes and are being embraced by U.S. police. But being fined more than $100,000 for posting images of a crime online? Sounds farcical.
However, in Ireland, the rules are surprisingly different.
After a man published CCTV video of a team of men burglarizing his house in South Dublin, it's him who may face penalties. For this note, we interviewed the man and take a look at Ireland’s strict privacy law. This is a case where the criminals’ privacy rights outweighed a homeowner’s desire to catch them.
Robert Waters was away from home when four men hopped a fence to his property and burglarized his house. The men were calm, methodical and in and out the house within minutes. They fled when the police arrived responding to the home’s burglary alarm. Waters, who had several cameras on his property, has footage of the crime:
“I gave the police a copy of the footage, and they had their investigation ongoing and I had the idea that if I put the footage in the public domain for the public to look at maybe they could identify someone too,” he said. He posted the video along with the number to a police tip line and reference number for the case.
He thought was doing a good thing when created the website CrimeCCTV.com [link no longer available] to allow other people in Ireland to post videos from their systems as well.
After the website went live, because there was nothing else like it in Ireland, it made the news. Technically, the police are the only authority with the power to post videos or images of criminals, but they never do, Waters says.
“In Ireland we don’t have something like the FBI Top 10 List. It doesn’t exist. As members of the public we don’t really know who the cops are looking for,” he said.
Ninety minutes after his first media appearance, a radio interview, he was contacted by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner by email. The message from the commissioner [link no longer available]advised him he was breaking the law by posting the videos online and threatened a 100,000 Euro fine.
“We note the noble intentions of the site to assist in the identification of criminals who were captured on film engaged in criminal acts. This Office views a photograph or image of an individual as personal data,” the message said.
“In accordance with the Data Protection Acts 1988 & 2003, a data controller can only process the personal data of an individual with their consent or in a limited number of circumstances listed under Section 8 of the Data Protection Acts. Section 2 B of the Data Protection Acts impose further restrictions on the processing of 'sensitive' personal data. The commission or alleged commission of an offence is considered to be 'sensitive' personal data."
The letter goes on to say that it can’t find any exemption in the act that would allow a person other than law enforcement to post CCTV videos online. Further, it says if he starts posting videos supplied from other members of the public, “and this Office received a complaint from an individual, we would most likely find that the website is in breach of the Data Protection Acts."
“For me to do it right,” Waters said. “I would need to get permission from those individuals, which is kind of crazy. You would expect those kinds of protections for members of our society like children, but in Ireland data from the commission of a criminal offense is regarded as ‘sensitive’ and enjoys special protections?”
He said he thinks the state worries that published images could prejudice a trial. Despite the privacy commission’s rapid response to his radio interview, they still have not responded to his email asking for clarification. The videos have been removed from his website, but are still available on YouTube.
Irish CCTV Data Protection Rules
The Data Protection Act contains numerous provisions made to protect privacy (that go well beyond what a person would be accustomed to in the United States).
For example, section 2D of the Act requires that a person being filmed be informed of who is recording, why they are recording, and any third parties that the information may be provided.
“This can usually be achieved by placing easily- read and well-lit signs in prominent positions. A sign at all entrances will normally suffice,” the Data Protections Commissioner’s site says.
The statute also says, “Where images of parties other than the requesting data subject appear on the CCTV footage the onus lies on the data controller to pixelate or otherwise redact or darken out the images of those other parties before supplying a copy of the footage or stills from the footage.” Covert surveillance is "generally unlawful."
What’s confusing, however, is that the Act also says these provisions do not apply to home CCTV systems [link no longer available], yet the commissioner has targeted Waters.
In response my questions about that section of the law, the Commissioner's Office released a statement saying, "This exemption however would not generally extend to the publication of footage from such systems on the internet and would not permit an organisation, that is not a law enforcement authority, to publish that footage online. There would be no issue with the provision of footage from domestic CCTV systems to An Garda Siochana (Irish Police Force) to assist with their investigations where required."
Waters hopes the Data Commissioner's lack of response to his letter means he is reconsidering how the law would apply to this case and that they will see the benefits of posting CCTV footage online, but he's not holding his breath.
"I hope something will change, but everyone is kind of waiting on the authorities to analyze this and see where it goes from there," he said.