Legal limits of CCTV surveillance in residential buildings

17.02.2016

Only a few weeks after the New Year, the Czech Office for Personal Data Protection (the “Office”) issued this year's first opinion under the number 1/2016, in which it commented on the conditions for operating recording camera systems (CCTV) installed in residential premises encompassing several apartments (accordingly, the opinion does not apply e.g. to family houses).

The Office concludes that the surveillance of common areas such as basements, attics, garages, pram and bicycle storage facilities, mailboxes area, the outer shell of the building, house entrance doors, elevators and stairs lobbies, or the very area of elevators and stairs, is possible subject to certain conditions, since in terms of data protection, such surveillance is considered to be personal data processing that is purposeful and reasonable. However, since the personal data processing requires in most cases the consent of the data subject (people who are recorded), the placement of cameras in a residential house also (as a rule) requires the consent of all persons living in the house. However, the law lists certain cases in which such consent is not necessary. According to the Office's interpretation, the placing of CCTV's in residential buildings without the consent of the data subjects will be commonly possible if the so-called legitimate interest prevails, meaning above all situations in which the interest in protecting persons and property sufficiently outweighs the interest in protecting the privacy of videoed people. In practice, the placement of cameras without the consent of the property inhabitants will be possible for instance in dangerous locations. Even in that case the recording may not interfere with such persons' right to the protection of their private and personal lives. The cameras focused on the entrance doors to individual apartments can thus, for example, operate only in exceptional and duly justified cases, and always with the consent of the inhabitants of the apartments concerned.

Before the camera system is placed, is it also necessary to meet the duty to inform the residents of the house in a suitable and provable manner (e.g. by making an announcement at a meeting of the association of unit owners, sending out information to all residents of the house), but also to other persons that come to the house irregularly (usually by placing clearly visible information tables at each entrance to the monitored areas). Before the processing is launched, the administrator (i.e. the person who intends to operate the CCTV) is further required to notify the Office of this intention.

The recordings may only be kept for a period of time that is inevitably needed (which is usually 1 or 2 weeks, being a period that is deemed necessary for any potential investigation of incidents recorded). The operator of the CCTV is also required to establish and carefully document security measures aimed at preventing any misuse of data (e.g. to determine authorised persons having access the device and their powers, to keep records of any access to the recordings).

As mentioned in the introduction, these rules concern record-producing CCTV. Camera systems without recording (live monitoring) are generally available for operation subject to slightly less strict conditions.

It is worth mentioning that the opinion expresses the opinion of the Office, and does not constitute a legally binding interpretation. However, it quite clearly suggests the Office's likely course of action in assessing recording devices in the future.