CCTV surveillance is a critical security precaution for many businesses, construction sites and private properties throughout the UK. Having signage and visible cameras can be a strong deterrent, and ensure your premises are protected from criminal activity – but how long should CCTV footage be stored for?
It’s important to use CCTV responsibly. There are guidelines for storing personal information related to data protection. Therefore a lot depends on why you use CCTV, how that footage is processed, and how long you need to retain it.
In this article, the Cerberus team summarises the key factors to consider when retaining CCTV footage.
UK Laws Relevant to storing CCTV Surveillance
The primary law that you need to be aware of is The Data Protection Act (1998).
This regulation aims to protect privacy and avoid any person or business misusing information captured by CCTV cameras.
Regulatory controls are designed to protect the rights of anybody recorded by CCTV, and mean that you should:
- Erect signs informing visitors to your premises that CCTV is in action.
- Have a policy outlining the appropriate uses of the footage captured.
- Decide on who has access, and how this will be safely stored.
- Delete images and videos after a set period.
For businesses, the easiest way to demonstrate good CCTV management is to have an operational policy outlining each of these factors.
You will also need to register with the Information Commissioner’s Office, as a company who collects data – the most critical data is directly identifiable with an individual. That might include car registration plates, or footage showing employees arriving or leaving work, for example.
The ICO has an online CCTV checklist that helps work through each of the key considerations.
How Long Can I Keep CCTV Footage?
There isn’t a hard and fast rule about how long you should – or can – keep CCTV footage. A lot depends on why you are collecting it, and whether any potential criminal activity has been identified that should be shared with the police.
Generally, the authorities recommend a retention period of 31 days. A month is typically enough time to review footage collected and highlight any captures that may be required in an investigation.
Small business owners might not find this practical. For example, if you use CCTV as a deterrent to criminals, and have not recorded any serious incidents, a minimum retention period of 14 days might be more suitable.
In any case, this retention period should be recorded in your CCTV policy, and apply to all footage, unless any events have taken place in that time.
The ICO guidance is that you shouldn’t keep CCTV videos for ‘longer than necessary’. There is, therefore, some discretion offered, and you should consider what sort of incidents you are likely to record, and what retention period is most suitable.
Should your CCTV pick up a serious crime or something you suspect might be a major incident, you should keep this imagery for 31 days – for example, if you record CCTV in vulnerable areas where there are high instances of crime.
Should I Keep CCTV Footage for Longer if I Have Captured Something Suspicious?
CCTV can only be used for specific purposes – namely, recording criminal activity or unauthorised security breaches.
In most circumstances, you cannot use it to record people at work, or neighbouring properties, for example.
Therefore, if you have captured an incident, this must be in accordance with the stated use of your CCTV installation. It might be necessary to keep videos for longer if there has been an accident.
In that scenario, it is usually advisable to copy the relevant CCTV, and only the appropriate videos, to a separate disc that you can easily share with the authorities. If there were an accident on site that could potentially be the subject of a legal claim, a claimant could instigate court action at any time within the next three years.
However, you must remain compliant with data protection laws and safeguard the information without unauthorised personnel access.
The 31-day recommendation is usually sufficient. This period allows the police enough time to investigate an incident, identify which commercial CCTV systems may be useful, and request access to the videos captured.
Storing CCTV footage – a summary
It is doubtless an efficient way to defend against intruders. By having a clear data protection policy, and registering with the ICO, you can demonstrate your commitment to compliance, while using your CCTV to the best effect.