While it may be reasonable for an employer to monitor their employees’ activities to ensure they are performing their duties, there are a number of Commonwealth, State and Territory laws that restrict the use of video, listening and data surveillance devices. This article explores whether it is legal to install a surveillance camera (or CCTV) for workplace surveillance.

Monitoring Activities at Work

If an employer conducts video recording, which includes record retention of the employee’s activity (stored video footage or CCTV video recording), the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) apply. The APPs fall under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). As an employer, you should also note that specific state laws may apply to the regulation of the installation and use of closed circuit television. This may fall under broader workplace privacy legislation (currently present in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory). Some state laws may also limit certain video monitoring.

Under the APPs, a business must notify employees, before they are recorded and that their image may be taken by CCTV. This may also be set out in an employment agreement or a workplace document such as a staff handbook. Moreover, if a business uses CCTV, it has an obligation to ensure that the video footage that is taken is stored securely. When no longer required, the footage must be destroyed or de-identified.

For visitors to a workplace (e.g. clients and postal employees), reasonable notice must be given if they have not signed an agreement to consent to be filmed. In these circumstances, a prominent sign at the building’s entrance or the CCTV’s area of operation will suffice. The signs should also identify which agency operates the cameras.

Prohibited Surveillance and Securing Footage

Specific workplace surveillance legislation may prevent surveillance in certain circumstances or locations. For example, in a change room, toilet facility or area where privacy should be respected. The use and disclosure of surveillance records for a covert purpose may also be restricted. Also, the location of CCTV cameras must not intrude on any personal affairs such as capturing private property adjacent to a business.

If your workplace conducts CCTV surveillance, you need to take reasonable steps to secure the footage. If CCTV is outsourced to a security company, it is the business’ responsibility to ensure the security company correctly secures the data. Securing footage includes not only physical safeguards but also technical and operational safeguards. Data storage areas and control rooms must be secure. If stored on cloud servers, security measures should be implemented to restrict access, such as encrypting data or forcing two-factor authentication. If data is stored overseas, an adequate level of protection must be met under the APPs.

Key Takeaways

Strict requirements surround the installation of surveillance cameras in the office. Business and building owners must also be aware that footage may be disclosed to law enforcement agencies or when authorised by a subpoena or otherwise required by law. Building and business owners must ensure that any surveillance camera system is fit for purpose, and there is prominent signage as required. Most importantly, footage should be securely stored and deleted when no longer required. If you have any employment law or IP law matters, our business lawyers can assist with understanding obligations surrounding workplace surveillance.

Anthony Lieu
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