We are often asked for advice about the use of CCTV camera footage for fighting crime. Many members are keen to know whether there are legal restrictions on the use of images for “naming and shaming” thieves, either online or in-store.
The law on this murky. We approached the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for guidance, but the Office wasn’t able to give us a clear answer.
It is certain that if the pictures you take with your security cameras identify an individual, they are covered by the Privacy Act. You therefore need to make sure that you are complying with that legislation (as well as making sure you are not defaming someone’s good name). So, if you want to name and shame the bad guys as part of your security detail, here’s our advice on what to do.
Retailers with CCTV need to have a policy for it. The policy needs to set out a clear purpose for the system, and take reasonable steps to ensure that patrons know that what information you are collecting about customers, and for what purpose.
For example: We record images of all people entering our store. These will be used for security purposes, including reporting crimes to the Police. We will also publish images of people who steal or commit other crimes on our premises.
If you use CCTV, you must have a sign which is clearly visible to patrons to read, before they enter your retail premises. This gives people the ‘heads up’ that they may be recorded. The sign must make clear who owns and operations the CCTV system. It must also briefly describe why the CCTV system is being used.
For example: Crime prevention cameras are in operation.
If you don’t have a readily available sign and policy like this, you can’t disclose the information unless an exemption applies – and if you publish photos of customers, even if they are criminals, you could run afoul of the Privacy Act. You should have a copy of the policy in-store and on your company website, if anyone asks for more information.
If you do have a sign and policy like the examples above, then under the Privacy Act, you are able to publish photos of criminals on the Internet, put them up on your window, or send them to nearby retailers.
However – be warned – you do need to get this absolutely right – and have the evidence to back it up. If you incorrectly accuse an innocent person of being a criminal, you run the risk of that person suing you for defamation. Defamation cases can be costly, so if there is any doubt at all about the accusation you are levelling, or if you don’t have watertight evidence – we strongly advise you not to make accusations or publish images.
That said, we think you’re well within your rights to publish images, so long as three conditions are met:
- you are 100 per cent sure of the truth of the accusation (truth is the ultimate defence in a defamation action); and
- you have disclosed that cameras are in operation and briefly why they are being used; and
- you have a readily available policy which sets out clearly the purpose of collecting camera images, i.e. to publish images of those committing crimes;
WHAT CAN I DO WITH MY CCTV FOOTAGE WHEN I FIND EVIDENCE OF A CRIME?
By Greg Harford, General Manager, Public Affairs, and Annika Chapman, Public Affairs / Policy Advisor.