Stricter limitations on the use of domestic CCTV systems that capture any part of a public space have been imposed by the EU this month, with wider effects likely to be felt across a range of technology and social media platforms.

Implications for Internet of Things technology are sure to be a main talking point, as are the way in which other new recording devices such as drones, body-worn video and wearable computing such as watches and glasses may now be used in public spaces.

Family fortress

Accessible, affordable CCTV cameras have been adopted by many householders in recent years in attempts to add an additional layer of protection to home security. More and more sophisticated home surveillance technology can now be procured in pursuit of peace of mind or Fort Knox-style fortification, depending on want or perceived need.

Generally recognised as a private perogative, home owners protecting personal premises with their own surveillance equipment had previously had fairly sure sanctuary in the EU Data Protection Directive's 'household exemption' provision that was interpreted to exclude domestic CCTV from the restrictions imposed on public surveillance cameras concerning data protection. 

Boundary issues

However, that exemption has narrowed somewhat after a recent European court decision reduced the application of the 'household exemption' for CCTV used at home. The decision has significant implications for homeowners who use CCTV to protect their premises, and perhaps also for anyone making private recordings on any device that incidentally captures other members of the public.

Czech CCTV case

The case that the ICO may well be cursing in that context this Christmas is that of a Czech homeowner who set up a fixed private camera to protect the family home, and after windows were broken it helped in the identification and prosecution of the perpetrators.

However, one particularly aggrieved, but apparently well informed assailant, filed a complaint that his rights to privacy were infringed by the surveillance camera that also pointed at a public pavement and house across the road.

Having not informed, nor received appropriate consent from, the passers by on the street, or those people entering the house opposite that he was processing their personal data (ie images by which they could be identified), the Czech homeowner was denied the household exemption allowed under EU DP law.

Evidently the EU wasn't about to let up on its crusade in support of data subject rights (and seemingly against Google) which has brought the 'right to be forgotten' earthquake and the 'news in Spain stays mainly in the domain (of its publisher)' aftershock this past year

Cue 'Vandal sues victim and wins' headlines.

Poor Mr Rynes. Proverbially kicked whilst already down, the Czech homeowner in question, may not quite share the anticipation amongst data protection watchers (and authorities) as to what the consequences might now be for a whole host of surveillance and recording activities previously thought private, but now perhaps posing a public problem.

CCTV and Christmas holiday chaos

Indeed, it is only two months since the ICO published updated guidance on data protection practice for surveillance cameras. Having acknowledged the impending decision in the Rynes case at the outset of the document, and promising necessary revision should the decision materialise as it has, the ICO will be pondering what this now means for data protection, let alone Christmas holidays, as he contemplates a rethink and a re-write and perhaps with a whole new realm of responsibility and associated work.

So, as the neighbourhood watch check, and perhaps adjust, their cameras, it is very much now a case of watch this space for recording technology – provided, apparently, it's not part of a public space.