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Can CCTV record audio?

Can CCTV record audio?
Can CCTV record audio?

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Do you have questions about CCTV installation for your business? Clearway is a leader in CCTV installation, serving businesses all over the United Kingdom. Get in touch with Clearway and we can talk you through your options.

There are two frequent questions the Clearway CCTV team answers, and they are: Can my CCTV system record sound? And, is it legal to capture audio through CCTV? Here we’ll run through the options available if you require an audio-equipped CCTV system and the factors to consider when deciding if this is the best option for your security strategy.

Can CCTV Cameras Pick Up and Record Sound?

In short, yes, they can. CCTV cameras can record audio, although this works differently depending on whether you have IP CCTV cameras or more traditional analogue cameras.

  • Analogue cameras need to have audio input directly through the DVR (digital video recorder). Therefore, audio is captured in analogue and converted into digital at the recorder. This does mean there are limitations since DVRs have limited inputs, so you might need to choose which cameras capture sound.
  • IP CCTV cameras are a more advanced option and are often recommended as the premium solution for business security systems. IP cameras collate audio data at the camera itself, and so the sound is digitised immediately. The sound quality is better, and more cameras can record audio simultaneously.

So, while we know that you can record sound, it’s also vital to consider whether it is legal. There are multiple laws around CCTV systems, primarily pertaining to personal privacy.

Can I Use Audio CCTV in My Business?

There are some instances where audio CCTV is invaluable, and the protection of public safety and workers outweighs the risks to personal privacy. Examples include:

  • Bus or cab drivers where a panic button activates recording.
  • Workplaces where audio CCTV is crucial to safety and all staff are aware.

In other premises, it’s all about considering the impact and how you will remain compliant with GDPR and the Data Protection Act.

Audio CCTV is often found in places such as call centres as a training tool. However, employees must know they are being recorded, why, who has access to the footage, and their rights if they want to reassess the processing of their data.

Key points include:

  • It is illegal to record anybody without telling them. You cannot record workplace conversations without ensuring all individuals on site are aware of the recording, when it is active, and why it is in place.
  • Sound quality relies on having excellent quality CCTV systems, and therefore a low-cost audio CCTV installation may have patchy quality and be impacted by interference and background noise.
  • Audio CCTV is more expensive than image-only CCTV and isn’t a standard product. Most CCTV cameras are manufactured without microphone attachments, and therefore you will need to install a sound-enabled camera.

What are the Rules Around Recording Audio CCTV in the UK?

Most of the audio commercial CCTV rules are the same as those that apply to regular video monitoring – although a thorough impact assessment is required to ensure that you remain legally compliant.

Audio recording is considered far more privacy intrusive than image captures alone. Therefore, you are strongly advised to work through the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) guidance to ensure your processes and policies are up to date and followed comprehensively.

According to the ICO: “The use of recording equipment, such as CCTV or smart doorbells, to capture video or sound recordings outside the user’s property boundary is not a breach of data protection law.” However, CCTV Rules include:

  • You cannot record conversations between members of the public. Audio CCTV must have a justifiable purpose, and that cannot be surveillance of private individuals.
  • The only exceptions to this are panic buttons in taxis or police custody rooms.
  • Workplace audio recordings are only permitted if you have a clear reason for the surveillance, and this reason is quantified by who views the footage, when, why, and how access permissions are managed.
    Any person in a workplace with audio recording must be aware that both video and sound are being captured.

The legislation is all about protecting privacy rights, and so the usually GDPR rules also apply:

  • Data captured must be stored and handled only by authorised personnel.
  • You should have a CCTV policy or privacy policy outlining your internal controls.
  • You must delete the information after a period set out in your policies (usually after 14 or 30 days).
  • Surveillance footage must only be used for purposes as identified.
  • Individuals have the right to request access to information stored about them and for this to be deleted.
  • You cannot process data in any way outside of your policy or that contradicts the purpose of your audio CCTV.

There is a lot to think about here. It’s also worth noting that if you did have a camera with audio recording capability for a residential CCTV system, you would usually be advised to switch this function off to avoid contravening privacy laws.

As always, the critical factor is to determine the value behind having audio CCTV, assess whether the purpose is permissible under GDPR legislation, and conduct impact assessments and record keeping demonstrating responsible audio CCTV usage.

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