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Advice for Small Businesses using CCTV

Do you own or operate CCTV cameras?

You do? In that case are you aware of the law relating to such use and the use of recordings made from your camera(s)? Particularly the law relating to Data Protection and admissibility of evidence? You should be!

Why do you use CCTV?

To protect your property or customers? To deter theft or vandalism, prevent disorder? May be a combination of all those reasons. So what happens if your system fails to protect or deter?

Easy isn’t it – you use your recordings to provide evidence.

Really? O.K., answer this one – when did you last check the quality of your recording? Was it O.K. or a bit ‘iffy’? Is the picture good enough to positively identify someone or does the recording show fuzzy indistinct shapes that might be the offender or might equally be Father Christmas!

It’s easy to criticise isn’t it? Easy for big Companies and schemes backed by Home Office grants to afford state of the art equipment giving top quality pictures and recordings. Maybe you cannot afford that type of equipment. Perhaps you don’t need to go to that sort of effort and expense.

What you can do is read the advice given in this pamphlet. It costs nothing and it could help to make your CCTV system much more effective. How? Read on …..

There are three areas you can address:

  • Your actual CCTV and recording equipment.
  • How you manage the use of your camera(s) and management of your recordings.
  • The legal implications.


Does your CCTV equipment do the job you wanted and expected it to do?

For example did you want your cameras to look at something specific such as a door, counter, till point, shop floor or forecourt?

Check that your picture is what you want. If the camera is not looking in the right place – move it!

What were you hoping to achieve with the camera – deter offenders, obtain evidence if an offence occurs or both?

A camera can only deter if it is clearly visible. Look at it. Can you see it clearly? Would your customers see it clearly? If not – move it!

To obtain evidence your picture/recording needs to be of sufficient quality. What use is a grainy, fuzzy picture to the Police Officer dealing with your incident? What use is your CCTV system if the Court refuses to admit your recording as evidence because it is poor quality?

Even if your picture and recordings are superb what use will they be if all you can see is the top of the offenders head? Where is your camera mounted? Up in a corner near the ceiling? Right above your doorway looking almost straight down?

Check some of your recordings. What can you REALLY see?

Fine – your camera is in the right place. It is well focused and the recordings are good. But is the camera and recorder switched on? Sure? Switched on all of the time?

Whose responsibility is it to switch it on and off. Give the job to someone specific or do it yourself!

No doubt you keep you premises sparkly clean all of the time. When was the last time you ran a duster over the camera and especially the front of the lens? Try it – you could be in for a surprise.

Is your video recorder working correctly? Had it for a long time? When was it last serviced or when did you last clean the recording heads?

You can buy a head cleaning tape very cheaply and it can make the world of difference to your recording quality.

What about your video tapes. No problem – buy a few from the cheap shop, they last for years. Do they really? Remember what the quality of your recordings were like when you first had the equipment?

Take a long critical look at your recordings now. Spot the difference? Why could that be?


Why on earth do you need to manage your system – it’s only one camera and recorder for goodness sake?

Quite simply because more and more frequently CCTV evidence is being challenged at Court. Not so much for the actual content of the recording but the procedures used to obtain it and the way it was handled. The rules of evidence are complicated. By adopting a few simple, basic procedures you may be able to ensure that your evidence will be admitted.

How many times have you used that video tape? Do you record to the end, rewind, record to the end, rewind, record to the end …………

Get the picture? Not for long if that is how you manage your tapes! So how many times can you do that – 20, 30, 40, 50 – more? Would you be surprised to know that the Home Office recommends a maximum of 12 times? Why is that? Because tapes will last for years – their ability to record good pictures will not. Ideally you should ‘clean’ tapes before reusing them. The best way is to use a degausser – it uses magnetic fields to clear all previous recordings. Tapes are cheap – buy some regularly!

Well done. You have taken note of the advice and purchased some new tapes. What are you going to do now? Stick one in the recorder and use it 12 times?

You could do that, but if you have read this far you obviously care enough about your system to do it correctly. Why not mark the tapes with a unique number and use them in rotation? In that way you will be retaining evidence that may be needed. Set up a system that you can stick to. Get in the habit of changing the tapes at a regular time. Keep all of the tapes in a secure place. Don’t, for example, mix them up with your own domestic use tapes. If you do that, one day the vital piece of evidence your system recorded will end up over recorded by last nights episode of Coronation Street!

Having gone this far why don’t you take the next logical step and begin to keep records of such things as tape use.

Keep it simple – start with the time and date the tape was unsealed and marked with your number. Make a note of the time and date every time it is removed from or replaced in the recorder and the name of the person doing it.

If you really want to do it right think about adopting a Code of Practice. There are some excellent examples including those published by the Local Government Information Unit, British Standards (BS 7958) and the CCTV User Group but the starting point might be the Data Commissioners own Code of Practice which highlights the issues you should be thinking about

There are links to this on the Data Protection pages of this website - press the button below.


Two recent Acts may have an effect on CCTV – The Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998 (which comes in to force October 2000).

The Human Rights Act mainly effects the action of ‘Public Authorities’ but can include ‘any person certain of whose functions are functions of a public nature’. This Act is based on the European Convention on Human Rights. The Convention sets out certain rights and freedoms, e.g. Article 8 a right to respect for private and family life.

The Data Protection Act 1998 provides ‘new provision for the regulation of the processing of information relating to individuals, including the obtaining, holding, use or disclosure of such information’. Information obtained by CCTV Systems may well fall within the scope of those provisions.

Eight Data Protection Principles are set out. They cover the way in which data may be obtained, processed, kept or transferred.

The Act also gives certain rights to ‘Data Subjects’. For example Section 7 of the Act gives a subject the right of access to personal data being held or processed (subject to some exclusions).

Whilst you should be aware of this law it is unlikely that there will be a large number of requests for access. The first Data Protection Act was introduced in 1984. It dealt mainly with the process of data by computer systems. The new Act extends the types of data covered. One of the best ways to ensure that you comply is to adopt a Code of Practice clearly setting out the reasons for obtaining data, to whom it will be released and for what purposes.

The Data Protection Commissioner has a duty to publish a Code of Practice for users of CCTV. It deals with CCTV surveiallance "in areas to which the public have largely free and unrestricted access.." The Code provides guidance as to good practice for users of CCTV and similar equipment. Copies may be obtained from the Commissioner.

If you require further advice or information about Data Protection please contact:

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner,
Wycliffe House,
Water Lane,
Tel. (01625) 545745

For further information on the use of CCTV and any queries relating to this pamphlet please contact:

The CCTV User Group on the feedback form page, the CCTV Manager of your Local Council, or the Community Safety Department.

• (36) By , 12 Oct 2007, 15:02

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