Edited to add: This article was written in September 2014 and some of the information may now be out of date. In October 2018 we published an update to this article here. For further information or advice about CCTV cameras in the workplace, please contact us.

How do you feel when you see those signs at airports and public places telling you that there are surveillance cameras? I know I feel a little violated in one sense but a sense of safety in another - knowing that criminals may be seen, their acts of violence caught earlier and that the information recorded makes a crime easier to trace.

cctv camera

The sense of safety may be unwise given recent and sad circumstances culminating in the death of two WINZ workers in Ashburton. Were CCTV cameras operating and visible, if not would they have stopped the incident? Would staff have felt safer if they were installed? Would they have assisted in finding the perpetrator faster?

Cameras are often in public places for public safety and for the deterrence of criminal activity. But like the public concern over privacy issues and the broad public surveillance suggested to be undertaken by the government for national security purposes; does it make it OK without consent and how in a public place would that consent be obtained? What does this mean for workplace surveillance in New Zealand?

In New Zealand employers have the right to use video cameras in the workplace, as long as that right is exercised in accordance with the Privacy Act. The business should go through the following guidelines to develop three key documents prior to installation and use of CCTV.

1. An evaluation of whether you need CCTV and what form that system might take.
2. A business plan which sets out the CCTV strategy, and
3. A CCTV policy which clearly outlines how you will operate your system and the rules your staff should abide by when using the system.

Things you must consider when forming your CCTV strategy and policy are things that are outlined in the Privacy Act such as:

  • People should be told why the cameras are being used and you should ensure that this is all the cameras are used for.
  • The use should be for legitimate and necessary business purposes, e.g. H&S, system improvements, tracking processing issues, high incidence of theft
  • Ensure staff and public are notified of the cameras existence using clearly visible and readable signs.
  • You can only use the footage for another purpose when the employee concerned has given permission for this. (e.g. making an ad, putting screen grabs into the annual report)
  • The footage should only be kept for the time required to fulfil these needs and then deleted.
  • The cameras should only be installed in the places necessary to fulfil these needs i.e. not in toilets, staff rooms etc.

camera3 camera 2jpg

Have a look at these links to case notes and outcomes where employers have used surveillance of staff and seen to be contravening the privacy act.
Case 1
Case 2

If you have concerns about any of the suggestions above, we recommend you read the articles on the Privacy Commission’s website.

You may also want to review the guidelines on the use of CCTV to ensure you are not planning to breach any part of the Privacy Act and run into trouble or receive fines.

Does your workplace have cameras operating and how does this make you or your staff feel?


by Pru Bell


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