It’s every family’s nightmare. Toddler Lucie Wilding was following her mother to the car to go on the school run when she was hit by a cyclist who was riding on the pavement, and dragged along the floor. The cyclist fell off his bike, before riding away without an apology. Lucie escaped with cuts and bruises – and the whole thing was captured on the family’s home CCTV. The horrific footage powerfully shows the dangers of cycling on pavements, and has played a part in a public campaign to identify the cyclist responsible. It’s an interesting argument for the benefits of home CCTV security.
The police are also keen to encourage use of CCTV security. Earlier this year Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, head of London’s Metropolitan Police, said more homeowners should install CCTV security cameras outside their houses. He said homeowners and businesses could help the police to solve crimes, and encouraged people to install them at eye-level so facial recognition could be used to identify criminals. But is it worth it? And what are the potential pitfalls?
Domestic CCTV security can be installed for as little as £50, so it’s potentially a cheap way of improving security at your home. You can spend thousands on a top-of-the range system, and this could pay dividends if you ever need to use to footage to identify a criminal suspect. It’s worth making sure the camera is high enough quality, and a good CCTV security installer should be able to advise you on the best place to install cameras.
Your system can be wired or wireless, depending on your budget. Wired cameras are cheaper but wireless ones can be more convenient – although an interrupted internet connection can mean lost footage. You can store images on a hard drive or separate digital recorder.
As well as the obvious benefits for your peace of mind, and the help it provides when catching criminals, the security systems can deter potential burglars, keeping your insurance premiums down.
Will it stop crime?
The jury is still out on the actual effectiveness of CCTV security in public spaces, but it seems to have the biggest deterrent effect in pre-planned crime, so a visible camera may stop your house being specifically targeted. Research has also showed that it helps police identify and catch offenders, so it could help catch whoever is behind a series of crimes, such as vandalism or anti-social behaviour.
Police advice says that for private households, better lighting, alarm systems or locks are more important to security than a CCTV security system. You can also get arguably the same deterrent effect with a dummy CCTV camera – but experienced thieves may not be fooled.
Dr Dean Wilson, Associate Professor in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Plymouth, says that home CCTV security might prove to be worth it in cases like Lucie’s. “If they’ve got their own CCTV security outside their house capturing their little girl being knocked down, then that seems a good piece of evidence,” he says.
Sir Bernard extolled the virtues of private CCTV security because they can help the police solve crimes like burglary or robbery. You might think they could also be useful to catch things happening outside your home, such as antisocial behaviour, or traffic incidents like Lucie’s hit-and-run. But many people don’t realise that you now have to be very careful about what you film and where your cameras are pointing.
Why private CCTV could be breaking the law
Pointing a security camera at the pavement, road, or neighbour’s property could put you in breach of the Data Protection Act or harassment law. In December an EU ruling said that private homeowners filming outside their own property are no longer covered by exemptions to the Act – which means filming the pavement or road could get you into serious trouble.
Following Sir Bernard’s advice might even cause a problem, as an eye-level camera could be more likely to be filming things outside the edge of your property.
An ICO spokesman said that the new guidance means people have to be careful about where they film. “Operators must operate within the law, for instance by making sure that their use and the siting of cameras is well justified, that the information they are collecting is not excessive, that it is only kept until it is no longer required and that it is kept secure.”
If you’re careful, it’s still possible to install such a camera, but it’s best to ask the ICO for advice first. If you break the rules, you could get embroiled in proceedings which could end in a contempt of court charge – a serious offence which could put you in prison.
It’s also worth noting that the ICO have never yet prosecuted anyone for contempt of court under data protection law. But there’s a chance that the laws surrounding home CCTV could be tightened. Last December surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter said he might recommend further regulation to government amid increasing concerns about domestic CCTV security.
And what about privacy?
Privacy expert Kate McMullan, associate at law firm Hogan Lovells, says its still unclear what the implications might be for ordinary people. “You have to be very careful about how you process and store the footage you record. In particular, you must let people know that you are using CCTV security, for example by putting a sign up, and not use CCTV in areas where people would normally expect privacy. We’re still not sure how the new rules are going to impact on homeowners in practice, and how strongly this ruling will be enforced.”
If your camera is pointed directly at a neighbour’s property they could also complain that you’re compromising their privacy under the Human Rights Act. If they do, and you can’t resolve it yourselves, it could become a police matter. The ICO say that the majority of complaints they receive are where there is a dispute over CCTV security cameras filming a neighbour’s property. If you live in a rented house or flat, you also need to ask your landlord before you install anything.
The ICO says you should still consider whether CCTV security is wholly necessary, and says you should consider whether extra lighting, alarms or locks can solve your security concerns. Make sure you’re not recording audio, as this is very intrusive. And there are also tight restrictions on publishing the footage you collect online.
There are ethical considerations, too. Dr Wilson says that domestic CCTV security raises questions about privacy in homes. “In blocks of flats there are push buttons where you can see the person, it’s everywhere in Canary Wharf, so it’s relatively common,” he says. But people might be particularly uncomfortable about CCTV on private houses. “It’s an obvious way in which people realise that our homes are not a safe little cocoon all the time, and there might actually be people looking into there.”
A Big Brother world
So home CCTV can be useful – but make sure you know the rules before you set it up. Don’t film beyond the boundaries of your property unless you have a very good reason, prioritise basic security like locks and lighting, and definitely don’t film other people’s homes.
And, says Dr Wilson, think about what constant surveillance says about our society. “It something that starts to make people think that it’s all getting rather Big Brother. It raises a lot of questions about the society we live in.”