Data watchdog report finds retailers who share shoplifting footage are breaking law

Retailers’ group RGDATA has called for an urgent review of the application of data protection law as it applies to the use of CCTV for crime prevention purposes.

The call was made following the publication of the Data Protection Commissioners Report for 2015 which confirmed retailers sharing footage of alleged shoplifters are breaking the law.

RGDATA director general Tara Buckley said the use of data protection legislation to prevent retailers from using CCTV to protect their business was alarming.

She said many retailers were effectively under siege as a consequence of repeated thefts from their shops and need to be able to employ technology effectively to help prevent crime.

The capacity for retailers within a town centre or shopping centre to share images of suspected shoplifters, including shoplifters captured on CCTV, was a key support for shopkeepers in protecting their businesses.

In her report, Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon said that audit teams from her office had targeted shopping centres and advised retailers on the use of CCTV cameras and the requirement for a CCTV policy to be in place, including the appointment of a data controller to oversee the use of monitoring equipment.

“Regarding initiatives being proposed by the retail sector to tackle shoplifting, the audit team referred to guidance published by the Office that sets out how sensitive personal data in relation to the commission, or alleged commission, of an offence may only be processed by a data controller [each retail outlet] for the purpose of pursuing legal action.”

In the audit reports, retailers were also advised that the sharing of information and photos of individuals by data controllers with other shops would be a breach of the Data Protection Acts.

In response, Ms Buckley said the Government had to look at the issue urgently.

“The report from the Data Protection Commissioner confirms that the balance of the law in this area has now tilted distinctly in favour of those that seek to commit crime by shoplifting.

“If the law stands as it is retailers will be inhibited in their capacity to adequately defend their businesses. Not only will they suffer the loss of stock if their shop is robbed, but they will also potentially face prosecution by the Data Protection Commissioner if they take measures to protect their businesses through the use of CCTV.”

Ms Buckley said that RGDATA would be seeking a meeting with the minister with responsibility for data protection, Dara Murphy, to see if there is national discretion to amend data protection law to facilitate the use of CCTV for crime prevention in retail premises.

“We need to get the balance right here. Clearly people have a right to privacy. But equally business people have an entitlement to protect their livelihoods from theft and should be able to use modern technology to achieve this aim.

“It is also important that retailers should be able to work together to prevent crime and sharing CCTV images and information with each other about alleged perpetrators is a critical element to stopping retail crime.”


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