Safeguards needed for CCTV systems

Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan today announced more funding for community CCTV schemes. Unfortunately these schemes still fail to comply with basic safeguards recommended by the Law Reform Commission nearly ten years in its 1998 Report on Privacy.

Experience in other jurisdictions have shown that CCTV systems are open to abuse. Voyeurism by CCTV operators is common, with even the occasional politician as a victim. One English case shows what can happen:

Two council CCTV camera operators have been jailed for spying on a naked woman in her own home. Mark Summerton and Kevin Judge, from Sefton Council, Merseyside, trained a street camera into the woman’s flat… The images from the camera, including the woman without her clothes on, were shown on a large plasma screen in the council’s CCTV control room in November 2004, Liverpool Crown Court heard.

Over several hours, she was filmed cuddling her boyfriend before undressing, using the toilet, having a bath and watching television dressed only in a towel.

What safeguards are there in Irish law? There is a Department of Justice Code of Practice for Community-Based CCTV Systems, which has a limited statutory basis in section 38 of the Garda Siochana Act 2005. But that Code of Practice, though fine as far as it goes, lacks teeth. The worst that can happen if a Community CCTV scheme flouts the Code of Practice is that its authorisation to operate the system might be taken away. There is no provision for civil or criminal sanctions against operators who abuse the system, leaving victims potentially without any redress.

The Minister for Justice did acknowledge today that safeguards were necessary against the abuse of CCTV systems. We agree. The current Code of Practice should be put on a full statutory basis, enforceable by civil and criminal sanctions.