So your neighbour’s set up a CCTV (video) camera that looks into your property also.  Apart from this no doubt feeling like an invasion of privacy, are they allowed to record your comings and goings and do you actually have any legal rights to have the camera removed? 

One US judge has described the impact of surveillance on privacy:

“What the ancients knew as ‘eavesdropping’ we now call ‘electronic surveillance’; but to equate the two is to treat man’s first gunpowder on the same level as the nuclear bomb. Electronic surveillance is the greatest leveller of human privacy ever known”

With CCTV camera systems being more widely used for securing both commercial and residential properties, the matter of privacy is a growing debate from both sides of the fence.  If I’m the person mounting the camera, what am I allowed to do?  What is considered reasonable?  And most importantly, what can I do with the information I collect?

Alternatively for the person looking down the barrel of a CCTV camera all day long, what rights do I have to protect my privacy and how do I fight if I consider it unreasonable interference?

Like many evolving issues like these, the laws are playing catchup with the technology to some degree.  There are legal clauses relating to video surveillance under the Australian Privacy Laws, which differ for each state.  In Queensland, Surveillance cameras operated by individuals are seemingly not covered by the Privacy Act at present.  IN NSW and the ACT there seems some inclusion in the Privacy Act and also additional laws regarding use of sound, so caution needs to be taken with regard to capture of sound with video.

In any case, suffice to say it’s hard to find a clear cut law with regard to CCTV usage and privacy.  Here’s what does seem fairly certain:

If you are installing the cameras:

  • Across the board, you will need to ask the question:what is the purpose of mounting the camera?The footage should directly relate to the purpose intended.Ie does the position of the camera match the intended purpose to detect vandalism for example.
  • Most importantly, am I unreasonably intruding on someone’s private life (for example the entry to a medical facility or a neighbour’s bedroom).
  • With regard to use of the footage, there are rules to follow.The footage needs to be only for the purpose it was collected, with the agreement of the individual in the footage or if required by law.In addition, you must only share the footage with someone else if you have clearly signposted that this may occur, or once again if the disclosure is required by law.
  • In the case of multi unit complexes, permission may be required from the body corporate.
  • Use common sense and err on the side of caution, if legality is unclear in your situation.

On the other side of the equation, if you are under video surveillance:

  • There is nothing at present illegal about using domestic surveillance however it may be a legal case if there is an apprehended violence order in place, the surveillance is creating a nuisance, or the area monitored is where privacy would be expected such as a bedroom or bathroom.
  • In the case of a workplace surveillance issue, refer to your state’s Workplace Surveillance acts.
  • Of course if you think the surveillance is of a voyeuristic nature, you may certainly have legal recourse.

In the end, the lines are very blurred, and we can only speculate on where it may head in the future.  It may not be stretching it too far to predict that the legalities of CCTV and privacy may blend with stalking laws at some point?  In the meantime, if in doubt or concerned see a lawyer for advice!

More information can be obtained about Australia’s privacy laws at this website:  http://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy/privacy-news