The Crime Prevention Website


With the cost of CCTV systems reducing quite dramatically over the past decade, a camera system for the home and small business has now become a viable security add-on for the majority of people.  Current estimates suggest that as many as 5% of households now employ some form of CCTV, be it a simple single camera that views callers at the entrance door or a full-blown system which can monitor and record anything that takes place within the curtilage of the dwelling. Business ownership of CCTV is, of course, considerably higher.

Systems are available from specialist installers and alarm companies (look for accreditation by the SSAIB and NSI) or you can install your own system using the vast range of cameras, cable and recording equipment available both on-line and from high street electronics retailers.

What are cameras used for?

Cameras are and can be used for just about any situation and scenario, but the common uses are listed below:

Domestic uses

  • Deterring people from committing offences both inside and outside the home
  • Gathering evidence of criminal activity, should crime occur
  • Providing an image of a caller at the door before it is answered
  • Watching over vehicles parked to the front or side of the home
  • Enabling remote observation of the family home (inside and out) when the occupants are at work or away on holiday
  • Checking to see if deliveries were made
  • Remotely checking to see if employed persons, such as cleaners and builders turned up for work and left at the appropriate times
  • Remotely checking on children or other family members when the householder is out for the evening
  • Checking the grounds of the home from the comfort of the armchair
  • Checking on children’s bedrooms after bedtime

Business uses

  • Deterring shoplifting and robbery in stores and obtaining evidence to support a prosecution
  • Watching over a till point to spot malpractice
  • Helping a lone shopkeeper to view all areas of the shop
  • Access control to the grounds of or entrance to a building or part of a building
  • Monitoring activity in a car park
  • Maintaining health and safety practices and procedures
  • Observing stock in a warehouse
  • Monitoring warehouse deliveries and dispatches
  • Providing security and safety for staff

Do you need to comply with the Data protection Act?

Domestic use

For a system that only obtains images from within the boundaries of your property the short answer is 'No'. However, if images are captured of neighbouring gardens or people on the public road etc. then the answer is 'Yes'.

Please see the Information Commissioners Office guidance below (a short summary), but also visit the link for much more detailed information.

ICO Public Advice - summary

CCTV used on your property will be exempt from the Data Protection Act unless your camera covers, even partially, any areas beyond the boundaries of your property, such as neighbouring gardens or the street. If your cameras are capturing images beyond the boundaries it does not mean that you are ‘breaching the DPA’, but it does mean that you are subject to it. 

If you do not want to be subject to the DPA then the most simple solution will be to alter the cameras angle of view so that it cannot capture images beyond your boundaries. You might also want to consider altering or improving your boundaries' security arrangements or improving the security of the buildings.

If you cannot rely on the ‘domestic purposes exemption’ you are subject to a number of requirements in the Data Protection Act. This includes a requirement to notify the ICO that you are a data controller. However, the ICO recognises that individuals need time to adjust to these developments in the law. They do not propose to take action during the coming year against an individual for failing to register their use of domestic CCTV cameras following this judgement, except in exceptional cases. If the position changes they will update this guidance.

Please visit for a full explanation

Business use

If you are installing a system for business use please follow this link to UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office and read about a business' obligations with CCTV.

Staff using the CCTV system should be trained to use the system, comply with the CCTV Code of Practice, be capable of dealing with police requests to view images, save images and easily provide useable copies.

The Data Protection Act does not prescribe any specific minimum or maximum retention periods which apply to all systems or footage. Rather, retention should reflect the organisation’s own purposes for recording images.

You should not keep images for longer than strictly necessary to meet your own purposes for recording them.  On occasion, you may need to retain images for a longer period, where a law enforcement body is investigating a crime, to give them opportunity to view the images as part of an active investigation.

A retention time of 31 days has traditionally been used for most CCTV applications and is still recommended by some police forces. However, it may not always be necessary for the owners of small premises to retain all data for 31 days, as the events captured are likely to be less serious in nature, or are ‘one-off’ incidents.  In these cases a minimum retention time of 14 days might be suitable, as this provides sufficient time for the authorities to attend the scene and retrieve the video in the event of an incident, but respects the advice of the Information Commissioner that data should not be retained for longer than necessary. The CCTV manager should make a decision on a suitable retention time for his or her's application.

Signs, warning of the use of CCTV must be displayed and should:

  • be clearly visible and readable;
  • contain details of the organisation operating the system, the purpose for using CCTV and who to contact about the scheme (where these things are not obvious to those being monitored); and
  • be an appropriate size depending on context, for example, whether they are viewed by pedestrians or car drivers.

Limitation of CCTV

Although the affordability of CCTV has meant that more and more people are using them it is probably too early to expect any home insurance discounts for cameras.  Business owners may have been required to install a system to meet the conditions of their insurance.

Unfortunately, even the best cameras and systems can miss vital evidence if they are not gathering images from the precise place of interest.  They are nevertheless a good investment for peace of mind and if you plan the installation carefully you will be able to secure useful images should something untoward occur.

There are three general classifications of images that can be recorded

Identify:* This is an image of sufficient quality and detail to identify an individual beyond any reasonable doubt.  An image of this standard would mean that a person of 1.7m in height would occupy the entire height of the viewing screen.  In some instances it is possible to capture a head and shoulders image, which would be even better, although some detail of lower clothing would be lost.

Recognise: Images of this quality would occupy at least 40% of the height of the monitor screen and enable someone who has seen the person before to recognise them to a high degree of certainty

Observe: Images like these provide information about clothing and the incident. They may be good enough to enable you to track a suspect for which you have identification and recognition quality images from other cameras.

*Vitally important for evidence, for both business and domestic installations, is the accurate tagging of the recordings with the correct date and time.

Some guidance documents further splits ‘Observe’ into ‘Monitor’ and ‘Detect’, which is especially useful for large CCTV systems, such as those installed in town centres; the reason for which is apparent from the descriptions of each below.

Monitoring: to watch the flow of traffic or the movement of people where you do not need to pick out individual figures.

Detecting: to detect the presence of a person in the image, without needing to see their face.

Recognising: to recognise somebody you know, or determine that somebody is not known to you.

Identifying: to record high quality facial images, which can be used in court to prove someone’s identity beyond reasonable doubt.

Please bear in mind that The Association of Chief Police Officers has stated that

80% of images from CCTV systems are not fit for purpose

and this means that they are neither useful for identifying a suspect or being of use in a prosecution. 

We know that a lot of burglars will knock on a front door before attempting to break in, just to check that nobody is at home, and so you can see that this might be an opportunity to catch a full head and shoulders or full body image.  Likewise, if you have a side access to your back garden and this is the likely route to be used by someone intent on breaking in then a camera monitoring this access, looking towards the street might well capture the image you’re looking for.

For those of you running small businesses, such as shops, a camera behind the till looking towards the public side of the counter is going to capture the image of the robber. There is, of course a strong possibility that the robber will cover their face, but even then important data can still be recorded (tattoos, clothing detail, height etc) so long as you are using a decent quality camera.

CCTV should not be used as an alternative to a high standard of physical security for your home or business.  CCTV will deter some criminals from committing crime in and around your property, but it is the physical security and your day-to-day security arrangements and procedures that will ultimately prevent most crimes from taking place.

Next Part: Planning a CCTV system 

Updated November 2015