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Using CCTV footage
to build a case

As well as deterring burglars and vandals, CCTV systems can be really effective if you are trying to build a legal case. Whether you are attempting to prosecute an intruder or have an employment or health and safety issue, CCTV can provide conclusive evidence. However, failure to follow the correct procedures could cause significant problems. As legal cases can be extremely costly, it’s important that you follow standard procedure and get it right.

Estimates suggest that there are approximately four million CCTV surveillance cameras in use in the UK. That’s one camera for every 15 people. However, many of these cameras produce poor-quality images, so the evidence they offer isn’t always useful or admissible in court. Meanwhile, many CCTV system owners fail to comply with the Data Protection Act, again making evidence unusable in many legal cases. Serious cases of non-compliance can result in substantial fines or even custodial sentences.

Adhering to data protection laws

While image quality usually comes down to the quality of your CCTV system and can easily be remedied, data protection compliance is more complicated. The Data Protection Act was put in place to protect human rights. Here are some of the main rules you will need to follow if you have a CCTV system and wish to use the evidence it produces in a legal case:

•Make sure people know they are in a CCTV surveillance area. The simplest way to do this is to place prominent signs at the entrance of the CCTV zone, with further signs displayed within the area. These signs should provide details of the organisation responsible for operating the system, the purpose for using it and relevant contact details.

•Those captured in the images have a legal right to request a copy of the footage and, subject to certain reasonable conditions, the data controller for the CCTV system must provide a copy. The application must be in writing, stating where the person was and when, along with photographic proof of identity. A charge of up to £10 can be made for the search, including the cost of providing a CD or DVD. The images must be provided within 40 days of the application date, or a valid reason for non-compliance must be given within 21 days. The image owner must ensure that any third parties are masked in the footage provided in order to protect other people’s identities. In non-criminal cases it is possible to save and store footage without showing the applicant, offering the applicant’s lawyer to take over as data controller for this specific piece of footage.

•While the Data Protection Act is not prescriptive when it comes to the maximum period you can retain your CCTV images for, the accepted norm is 30 days.

Storing your CCTV images

If you have a CCTV system, it’s essential that your recording equipment is kept in a secure place. Download access should be password protected and only available to authorised users. If you are storing footage for a legal case, it should be downloaded to non-rewritable media such as a CD or DVD and must be playable on any video-enabled PC or laptop without introducing additional software. It is worth downloading two copies: one as a working copy and one for the archives. Files should be carefully audited and documented.

How Standfast can help

Provided that your CCTV images comply with the Data Protection Act and have been stored properly, you should be able to use them as part of your legal case. If you are looking for a way to keep your CCTV system secure, or are thinking of installing or updating your CCTV system, Standfast can help. We install, maintain and repair a wide range of CCTV systems in Bristol, from single, fixed cameras to fully-controllable, multi-camera systems.

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