Video surveillance in building automation and privacy issues

Video surveillance including video recordings have long been part of everyday life in public spaces and in many companies - except directly at the workstations. In the course of the technological development in building automation and smart homes, these topics are also becoming more and more important for private buildings. Here, protection against burglary, vandalism or unwanted visitors on one's own property plays a particularly important role.

However, anyone who is considering protecting their own home with video surveillance does not only have to deal with the technical details. Very important questions also arise with regard to data protection and personal rights. What is and what is not permitted in detail is defined in the DSG, the federal law on data protection. Which rules must be observed and which regulations must be complied with? Do I have to point out video surveillance? What may be filmed in the event of a break-in? May such recordings be used for the preservation of evidence? Do they stand up in court? The following article will answer the most important questions on this topic.

Video surveillance as burglary protection

Video surveillance and recording are important components in the field of electronic intrusion protection. Equipped with cameras, recording devices and the necessary accessories, such as infrared light and motion detectors, it is possible to control even extensive areas and large building complexes without having to make a particularly large effort. The observation and monitoring can be done internally or externally at an emergency call center or a service control center. Smart Home solutions allow you to check your own house and property remotely using a smartphone and corresponding app and, if necessary, call the emergency call center or security service directly. In the event of a break-in, robbery or vandalism, the recordings can thus contribute to a better prosecution of the perpetrator(s).

However, measures of this kind can restrict the personal rights of those affected. Therefore, it must always be decided on a case-by-case basis whether video surveillance is permissible or whether the protection of personal data takes precedence.

Video surveillance on the own property

From a legal point of view, there is nothing against monitoring one's own property and the buildings located on it. However, the cameras may in fact only record personal property and may not provide insight into neighbors or public space. Swivel cameras should therefore rather not be used, as they can create a false impression in the neighborhood. Common access roads or driveways may only be monitored if all parties involved agree.

Underlying regulations

The legal requirements for video surveillance that does not exclusively serve personal or family purposes are laid down in the Federal Law on Data Protection (DSG), which is based on Articles 95, 122 and Article 173, paragraph 2 of the Swiss Federal Constitution. However, the Federal Law on Data Protection does not contain an explicitly defined regulation, and therefore it is not yet possible to provide any viable and reliable information on how it is handled in practice. In general, it can be said that surveillance with the aid of optical and acoustic devices is only permitted if it serves to protect the legitimate interests of the person under surveillance or third parties and if the fundamental rights or interests of the persons concerned do not prevail. In case of doubt, it is up to the court to decide whose interests are to be given priority.

Which measures comply with the requirements of the DSG?

First of all, it is necessary to define the purpose and the goal to be achieved with video surveillance. A legitimate reason can be of economic, legal or idealistic nature. As a protection against burglary, theft or vandalism a surveillance system may be installed, as long as an actual danger situation can be proven. This could be, for example, clear incidents or damage in the past.

Note on video surveillance required

Operators of monitoring systems must clearly indicate the monitoring, usually by means of an appropriate sign. The legislator therefore sets the following minimum requirements for the duty to inform and transparency:

- Announcement of video surveillance (camera symbol or pictogram are usually sufficient)
- Identity and contact details of the operator
- contact details of the responsible data protection officer, if applicable
- Legal basis and processing purposes of the recordings in keywords
- Statement of the legitimate interest, if the processing is based on the Federal Law on Data Protection
- Duration of the storage
- Indications of other mandatory information (including the right of access and complaint, as well as a
   possible recipient of the data)

Allowed duration of storage

According to common practice and the opinion of the responsible supervisory authorities, recordings from video surveillance may be stored for a maximum of 72 hours. In cases where this is not practicable, courts have already allowed a period of ten days. The purpose of the recording is decisive. If such a purpose no longer applies, the recordings must be deleted again immediately. This is the case, for example, if a building has been checked by video during the night but no break-in, robbery or vandalism has occurred.

Rights of filmed persons

Video surveillance may only be carried out if there is a legitimate interest - for example, to protect the rights of the house - and if the interests of the persons filmed do not outweigh those of the persons worthy of protection. Protection against burglary can represent a legitimate interest for the use of surveillance. However, surveillance that violates the privacy of a person is not permitted. This applies to saunas, showers, toilets or changing rooms, but also in parks and restaurants, since the possibility of personality development is the main focus and the interests of the persons concerned are also worthy of protection.

Violations of data protection-compliant video surveillance

If a surveillance does not meet the requirements of the Federal Law on Data Protection (DSG), the supervisory authority may demand that the deficiencies be remedied, temporarily restrict the surveillance or even prohibit it altogether. Failure to comply with the transparency of information obligations can also be punished with a fine, the amount depending on the circumstances of the individual case. In the case of companies, a fine can be measured as a percentage of the total worldwide annual turnover from the previous financial year.

Video surveillance via WLAN - useful or not?

The topic of monitoring via LAN or WLAN is controversially discussed. The use of WLAN cameras can make sense where absolutely no cabling is desired or possible. These can be listed buildings, but also clean rooms or cold storage houses, where no walls can or may be opened afterwards for cable laying. If only a single camera is required and can be installed near a router, there is also no reason not to use WLAN. However, the cameras themselves at least require a power connection or must be operated with a rechargeable battery.

Problems arise from walls and wall coverings such as tiles. This greatly attenuates the WLAN signals and often completely shields them over long distances. In such cases, the building needs a very good WLAN infrastructure with several repeaters that also consume electricity. This increases the financial outlay, so that a WLAN surveillance system can become more expensive than a wired solution when installing several cameras.