Surveillance Law

Surveillance Law: Drones, Dash Cams, Helmet Cams, Body Worn Video and CCTV

Emerging surveillance technologies are providing unprecedented capabilities for individuals to observe and capture their environment. Examples include cyclists utilizing helmet cameras to document hazardous driving behaviors, security personnel employing body-worn cameras to record instances of aggressive or abusive conduct, and drone operators capturing aerial footage of their neighborhoods.

Regardless of the purpose, individuals using these advanced surveillance tools must ensure their activities comply with legal regulations. Following the government’s introduction of a new surveillance strategy, here’s an overview of:
Regulations governing drone usage
Laws pertaining to dashboard cameras
Legislation regarding helmet cameras
Regulations for Body Worn Video (BWV) devices
Legal framework for CCTV systems
The Surveillance Camera Code

Drone Regulations (Drone Code)

The prevalence of drones has surged in recent years. To promote safe operation, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has introduced the Drone Code. The key principles of the Drone Code include:

  • Maintain visual contact with your drone at all times
  • Refrain from flying above 120 meters (400 feet)
  • Adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines during each flight
  • Maintain a minimum distance of 50 meters (150 feet) from individuals and properties
  • Keep at least 150 meters (500 feet) away from crowds and built-up areas. Avoid flying over these areas
  • Maintain a safe distance from aircraft, airports, and airfields

The drone operator bears legal responsibility. Irresponsible operation may result in criminal charges. Endangering aircraft safety is a criminal offense that could lead to a five-year prison sentence.

Drone pilots face restrictions on where they can operate. Many parks enforce a “no model aircraft” policy, which encompasses drones. For instance, all of London’s Royal Parks prohibit drone flights, although several commons – including Hampstead Heath, Blackheath, and Clapham Common – permit them. Various applications (such as NATS Drone Assist, B4UFLY, and Drone Zones) are available to identify permissible flying areas.

When drones are equipped with cameras, operators must consider the implications of the Data Protection Act and CCTV Code of Practice.

To ensure compliance with privacy regulations, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) advises the following:

  • Inform individuals prior to initiating any recording
  • Be mindful of your surroundings – for instance, avoid capturing footage inside private residences or through windows
  • Meticulously plan your flight path to prevent potential privacy infringements
  • Ensure the security of captured images and promptly delete them when no longer necessary
  • Refrain from disseminating images that could lead to harmful consequences

Additional points to bear in mind:

  • Presently, drone registration is not mandatory – though legislators are considering implementing this requirement in the near future
  • Various providers offer drone insurance for approximately £35 annually
  • Operating a drone for commercial purposes or beyond the limitations outlined in the Drone Code necessitates obtaining special permission.

Dashboard Camera Regulations

Dashboard cameras serve as an excellent tool for motorists to document road incidents, and their footage is increasingly being utilized in legal proceedings to establish guilt or innocence. Due to the clear, visual evidence they provide, some insurance companies are beginning to offer discounts to drivers who have installed dash cams.

However, drivers may inadvertently violate the law if they position the camera incorrectly or install an accompanying LED display.

According to the Road Traffic Act 1998, obstructing the front or rear windscreens constitutes an offense. To remain compliant with the law, dash cam users should adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Avoid mounting a suction-based camera on the majority of the windscreen
  • Ensure that no part of the device – including the camera, mount, suction cups, and wires – protrudes more than 4cm into the windscreen wiper’s arc
  • Prevent any component of the device from intruding more than 1cm into the “red zone,” which encompasses the driver’s field of vision.

Some dashboard cameras come with an integrated LED screen. The Road Vehicles Regulations 1986 stipulates that it is unlawful for the screen to be active when visible to the driver at any point during vehicle operation. Consequently, these screens must be concealed, deactivated, or positioned outside the driver’s line of sight while the vehicle is in motion.

Helmet Camera Regulations

Cyclists frequently utilize helmet cameras, often to resolve disputes with other road users. When properly installed, helmet cameras are entirely legal.

In the United Kingdom, individuals may legally record others in public spaces without obtaining consent. This allows cyclists to film freely, provided they adhere to the Data Protection Act and the CCTV Code of Practice. These regulations prohibit the persistent filming of a single individual (which could constitute harassment) or intentionally recording on private property.

When submitting helmet camera footage for legal purposes, cyclists should be aware that court admissibility requires accompanying documentation. This includes a witness statement and the ability to transfer the footage to a CD, along with a certificate (authenticated by a solicitor) verifying that the content has not been altered.

Although many cyclists share clips captured by their helmet cameras on platforms like YouTube or other social media sites, it is advisable to refrain from publishing footage intended for use in legal proceedings. If one chooses to share footage publicly, there is no obligation to obscure faces or vehicle registration plates.

Body Worn Video (Bodycam) Regulations

Body Worn Video (BWV) devices, primarily associated with law enforcement, gained prominence in 2005 when Devon and Cornwall Police conducted a trial of the technology. Now widespread among British police forces, bodycams are also gaining traction in the security industry.

According to the Security Industry Authority (SIA), individuals who review footage recorded by bodycams are likely to fall within the scope of public space surveillance (CCTV) activities. This classification stems from the fact that bodycams are typically worn by individuals providing contracted services. Anyone using a bodycam to monitor public activities in public or private spaces, or to identify individuals, requires a license—except when identifying trespassers or protecting property.

As with all surveillance technologies, bodycam users must comply with the Data Protection Act. For personal use of bodycams unrelated to employment, the same legislation applies as for helmet cameras. However, since bodycam users are more likely to enter private premises on foot, they must exercise greater vigilance in deactivating their cameras when appropriate.

CCTV Regulations

Individuals may employ CCTV systems to safeguard commercial and residential properties. To ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act, CCTV operators must:

  • Display signage informing people of the CCTV’s presence and purpose
  • Provide recorded images to subjects within 40 days upon request (a fee of up to £10 may be charged)
  • Cooperate with authorities by sharing footage when requested
  • Retain images only for the duration necessary
  • Configure CCTV to minimize intrusion into others’ privacy
  • Maintain accurate date and time settings
  • Ensure recordings are securely stored with limited access

The Information Commissioner’s Office offers comprehensive guidance for those operating or planning to install CCTV systems.

The Surveillance Camera Code

The UK’s updated surveillance strategy incorporates the SC Code, which outlines 12 fundamental principles that should be adhered to by all entities or individuals utilizing surveillance technology. These principles apply universally, whether you’re operating a drone, using a dashboard, helmet, or body-worn camera, or managing CCTV systems.

1) Surveillance camera systems must be deployed solely for specified purposes in pursuit of legitimate aims and to address identified pressing needs.
2) The implementation of a surveillance camera system must consider its impact on individuals and their privacy, with periodic reviews to ensure ongoing justification.
3) Maximum transparency in surveillance camera system usage is required, including a published point of contact for information access and complaint submission.
4) Clear responsibility and accountability must be established for all surveillance camera system activities, including the collection, retention, and utilization of images and information.
5) Explicit rules, policies, and procedures must be established prior to surveillance camera system deployment, and these must be effectively communicated to all relevant parties.
6) Data storage should be limited to information strictly necessary for the stated purpose of the surveillance camera system, and such images and information should be erased once their intended purposes have been fulfilled.
7) Access to stored images and information must be restricted, with clearly defined protocols governing who can access this data and for what purposes. Disclosure of images and information should occur only when necessary for the stated purpose or for law enforcement requirements.
8) Operators of surveillance camera systems should consider and strive to meet and maintain any approved operational, technical, and competency standards relevant to their system and its intended use.
9) Appropriate security measures must be implemented to protect surveillance camera system images and information from unauthorized access and usage.
10) Effective review and audit mechanisms should be in place to ensure compliance with legal requirements, policies, and standards in practice. Regular reports should be made publicly available.
11) When a surveillance camera system is employed in pursuit of a legitimate aim and addresses a pressing need, it should be utilized in the most effective manner to support public safety and law enforcement, with the goal of processing images and information of evidential value.
12) Any information used to support a surveillance camera system that compares against a reference database for matching purposes must be accurate and regularly updated.

ZAM FM Ltd is a premier provider of security personnel in the United Kingdom. We deploy Security Industry Authority (SIA) licensed guards to ensure comprehensive protection of our clients’ assets, offering expert security solutions throughout the country.

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