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Lawyer: Public rights on security camera usage not always followed

Security camera (picture is illustrative).
Security camera (picture is illustrative). Source: ERR

Security cameras must always have a clearly defined purpose, and those who might appear in their range of view had the right to know that their activities are being recorded, according to lawyer and data protection specialist Merlin Liis.

Appearing on Vikerraadio broadcast Vikkerhommik on Monday morning, Liis said that. "Camera recordings definitely cannot be used for any purpose whatsoever. When they are used, they must always have a clear purpose - usually to protect property and individuals," Liis said, giving the example of a store's security cameras.

However, the cameras must strictly be used for that purpose only.

"Once the camera is set up for that purpose, the store must not use it to keep track of how its employees and what they are doing at work. In other words, camera footage can only be used for the purpose it is set up for," Liis stressed.

"As a general rule, cameras may not be used to monitor the employment contract. If cameras are used in the workplace, for security purposes, for example, the principle of minimization must be observed when positioning and using the cameras, meaning they must be placed in a manner that is as intrusive as possible," she continued.

This means cameras can be installed in general communal areas, or outside a building, but must not be installed in areas where people may reasonably expect greater privacy, such as rest rooms, clothing or laundry facilities.

According to Liis there are an increasing number of security cameras in urban areas in Estonia, with no likelihood of a reverse of that trend.

This brings both pluses – such as the dramatic reduction of certain types of crime, and negative, meaning that regulations regarding privacy and informing individuals are not always followed.

"Regarding informing about cameras, the regulations provide for two-step notification. First, the camera must be labeled - for example, with a picture of the camera, or a label with a camera's image, as we often see. Second, people must also be informed about the exact conditions by which a person can access a recording of them," she said.

Liis noted that those people who have appeared within a camera's view are required to be guaranteed the right to see the recorded footage that has been made of them, and of others in the same footage.

 "As a rule, refusal to release such a recording cannot be given. But when such a recording is released, the privacy of other people must be respected - that is, if third parties remain on the footage, their images must be blurred-out," she said.

Furthermore, private individuals must not distribute recordings of people or even any wrongdoing, and if in doubt, the recorded videos must be reported to the police, Liis said. 

"You can always send recordings to the police, because the police have the powers to investigate crimes and to process camera recordings. But private individuals simply can't do their own thing, and if something is filmed for their own purposes, it cannot be shared publicly," she noted.

The original Vikerhommik segment (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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