When do Data Protection laws apply and what are they?

You have certain rights to data protection when personal information about you is held by a business on a computer, in manual form or on paper as part of a filing system, or is made up of photographs or video recordings of your image or you voice.

Under the Data Protection Acts 1988-2003 you have the right to check that the information held is factually correct and only available to those who are entitled to use it and only for the stated purpose.

Organisations should have an internal procedure for allowing you to access your personal data. If they do not then you may write to them requesting sight of copies of all personal records under the Data Protection Acts.

If you find that a Data Controller has details about you that are factually incorrect or that they do not have a valid reason for holding them then you may ask them to change or remove these details. If they do not comply you can make a complaint to the Data Protection Commissioner who may investigate the matter.

CCTV Footage

The use of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras has exploded in recent years. So much so that many commentators now believe that we have become a surveillance society. Often the CCTV footage is used for a specific purpose, such as identifying shop lifters or at ATM’s to ensure that skimming devices cannot be placed.

CCTV cameras are also often used to pinpoint the location of suspects to a crime For example In Limerick a recent murder investigation used almost 1,600 hours of CCTV footage centered on a 5km radius in order to place certain individuals in the vicinity of a crime scene.

The use of CCTV footage must be proportionate and for a specific purpose. That purpose must be displayed prominently, for instance if you have security cameras around your house then a sign at the entrance to your driveway would be sufficient. The images should only be stored for a period of 28 days except where they are retained as part of an on-going investigation.

Employers should note that constant monitoring of employees is considered intrusive and would need to be justified. Covert monitoring of staff is not allowed. Staff must be informed of the existence of surveillance.

If a business wishes to place a camera capturing the external areas of their premises care must be taken so as to ensure that the privacy of adjacent dwellings is maintained.

Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill 2009

This law has not yet been brought into force. Its stated purpose is to combat organised crime and to safeguard the security of the State. One of the provisions of it allows the Gardai to use material gained by means of secret surveillance as evidence in legal proceedings. The Bill also allows for tracking devices.

The Bill contains safeguards but it remains to be seen how widespread it’s use will be by the Gardai. As always the devil is in the detail. If you have any further concerns regarding Data Protection issues then the Data Protection Commissioners website, www.dataprotection.ie is quite useful in providing explanations in plain English.