The presiding judge at the Court of Appeal (CA) of Stuttgart has stated in an oral hearing on 17 July 2017 that recordings of dash-cams may be used in civil court proceedings for evidence purposes (document number 10 U 41/17).

The statement corresponds to a CA decision of May 2016 permitting a city administration to use such recordings in administrative fine proceedings in case of serious traffic violations (document number 4 Ss 543/15). In the present case, the CA is the first higher court to explicitly permit dash-cam recordings in civil proceedings. The previous instance (Regional Court of Rottweil) as well as other lower courts had refused the exploitation of the recordings so far, arguably based on data protection arguments. So far, the German Council of Transport Authorities (Deutscher Verkehrsgerichtstag) had been hesitant in this regard, arguing that the recordings should be automatically overwritten “in the near term”.

From the privacy perspective, the key question is how to balance the interests between the car driver using the dash-cam and other road users (data subjects) that are being filmed by the dash-cam. The CA pointed out that the interference with the data subjects’ privacy rights is relatively low. The dash-cam merely records the streets, rather than the data subjects’ intimate or private sphere. The presiding judge held that “everyone moving in the public space can expect to be photographed or filmed.” The judge also stated that fact-finding in case of an accident is difficult (if not impossible) without such recordings, due to inaccurate and contradictory testimonies. As such, the interests of the road user claiming damages from an accident are generally higher than those of the data subjects incidentally recorded.

Whilst the CA ultimately did not hand down the final ruling (the parties settled the case), the case is remarkable: It could define the tipping point for court proceedings regarding traffic accidents, in which dash-cam could become a source of solid evidence. We have, however, yet to hear the final word on this question.