We are used to seeing security cameras in retail stores throughout the UK. CCTV cameras play a key role in the security strategy of today’s retail businesses, and can make a world of difference for the safety of your customers, your staff, and ultimately, your reputation.
But video surveillance is not an entirely trivial matter. Its use is regulated by ample legislation, and you always need to weigh the benefits of surveillance against the legal effort required to implement it, and against the effort required to use and maintain a security system.
If all this sounds complicated, we hope we’ll be able to offer some useful pointers. The legislation may be obscure, but its principles aren’t. Armed with a better understanding of the basics, you’ll be able to figure out what you need and how to make it happen in no time.
Are there any benefits to deploying CCTV cameras in retail stores?
Absolutely – video surveillance has played a key role in securing shopping centres for more than thirty years now.
The most often-cited objective of deploying CCTV cameras in shopping centres is crime deterrence. The hope is that someone who might commit an illegal act – theft, assault or any other crime – would rather not do it in front of a camera. Consequently, if they know they are watched, they will avoid illegal or suspicious activity.
Does it work? The evidence that video surveillance deters crime in public places is there, scientifically speaking. But studies have also shown that the crime-deterring effect varies significantly.
This would suggest that video surveillance can be a component of an effective security system, but is not a panacea. The presence of CCTV cameras can influence behaviour, but is not a physical barrier against crime.
Another important benefit of CCTV use is the sense of security that their presence can impart. Customers may not be afraid of shoplifters the way you are, but they can be the victim of theft or assault while they are in a store, too.
The presence of security cameras implies a certain degree of safety, and that can contribute to a better shopping experience.
The sense of security that CCTV cameras impart is a two-edged sword, though. Making you customers and staff feel secure is only useful if you can back it up with real security guarantees.
A mismanaged CCTV system can give your customers and staff the impression that they are safer than they really are – a false sense of security which, experts caution us, can actually create opportunity for criminals.
If all else fails – and this is the least “two-edged” benefit of security cameras – legally-obtained surveillance footage can provide useful evidence, which the police can use to recover stolen goods and track down perpetrators.
The key, of course, is “legally-obtained”. CCTV cameras come not only with benefits, but also with legal obligations. Failing to abide by these obligations will not only get you in trouble with the law, but could make it impossible for you to use CCTV footage in a legal setting, even if it could be useful.
So do the benefits of CCTV cameras outweigh the cost and legal risks?
One way to go about this would be to point at the ample evidence that, at the very least, there’s no harm to using CCTV cameras, assuming you can properly manage them.
But we think that’s not the right way to look at this matter. There are so many CCTV camera models, with so many capabilities, and integrated in so many security systems, that the question is too broad to be useful.
Instead, you should look at your objectives: what people and what things you want to protect, and against what threats. This will help you understand what capabilities you need from your surveillance system (if you even need one): what kind of camera, how many, and with what features.
In other words, what you want to ask is:
In our experience, common scenarios for using CCTV cameras in retail settings include:
These scenarios are quite diverse. This explains the diversity of CCTV camera models and features – but don’t worry, they are far less intimidating than the shopping catalogs make it seem at first.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to CCTV Capabilities
Selecting the right camera based on your objective sounds good on paper, but there are thousands of models and hundreds of features. How do you pick the right one?
When examining this, it’s important to keep in mind that CCTV cameras are not the only component of a security system, and that you can use any kind (as long as it’s legal) and as few or as many as you need.
Camera models differ from one another in four basic ways:
This is where you want to start from.
Let’s take a closer look at all these factors
It’s a lot easier to be brief about CCTV technology than about CCTV legislation.
Surveillance is a very complicated topic: the right to liberty and security, fair trial, respect for private and family life and the right to peaceful enjoyment of our property are fundamental to our society.
Depending on how it’s used, surveillance can either help us enforce these rights, or undermine them.
This fragile balance is what makes surveillance legislation so difficult and sensitive. But, while we cannot hope to cover the breadth of CCTV legislation, we can at least clarify your basic responsibilities.
The most important principle of CCTV surveillance is that it should be deployed only if it’s necessary, and only for clearly-defined purposes. In some cases, you may have to formally document this through a data protection impact assessment.
If your business uses CCTV cameras, you will have to tell people that they may be recorded. Anyone can ask to see CCTV images that you’ve recorded of them, too, and you must provide them within 40 days. This is true even if you are only monitoring your staff, not your customers.
Furthermore, you are also responsible for safeguarding surveillance data. You must control who can view CCTV footage and make sure it does not fall into the wrong hands.
In certain cases, you will also need to notify the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about your CCTV usage. If you are unsure about this, the ICO has a handy registration self-assessment page that can help you figure it out.
The main challenges that organizations face when deploying CCTV cameras are practical in nature.
Paperwork aside, you need to decide things like how you will let people know about surveillance, who can view CCTV footage and under what conditions. Then you need to figure out how to provide the technical support to make it happen.
A good framework for managing your surveillance capabilities should, at the very least, answer four questions:
You are legally required to notify everyone (including employees!) that they may be recorded, and you are required to provide everyone with details about the purpose of the surveillance and the identity of the organisation that is collecting the footage.
This is true even if you are not surveying customers. You can monitor employees at work, but you need to be transparent about it, explain the purpose of the monitoring, and its scope.
Only under very specific circumstances, and even then only temporarily and as part of an ongoing investigation, are you allowed to monitor your staff without their knowledge.
In fact, as a general rule, a CCTV system can only be used for its intended purposes. For example, if you have deployed a camera to deter crime, you cannot use it in order to monitor your employees’ productivity.
You want to keep this list as small as possible: CCTV footage should only be accessible to the personnel who needs it in order to achieve your security objectives. For example, you probably want to make it accessible to security guards, store managers or floor managers, but not to cashiers or the cleaning staff.
There is only one exception to this rule: you are legally required to provide anyone who asks with footage in which they appear. You can charge a fee of up to 10 GBP, but you must supply this data within 40 days.
There are several measures you can take in this regard: footage should generally be stored in encrypted form, and you should take proper precautions when copying or transferring data. If you store footage in the cloud, you should only work with reputable service providers with good security track records.
Furthermore, CCTV footage should only be viewed in restricted areas, such as dedicated security rooms, where you can ensure that it is only accessible to the people who have the right to view it.
UK legislation requires that CCTV footage be retained only for as long as it is necessary.
Confusingly enough, a clear limit is not provided. But this is done with a good reason: you are required to have a policy for deleting existing footage, and the policy must include a specific retention period after which footage is deleted.
However, you are legally allowed to keep images after that period if it is required – as part of a police investigation, for example.
If you are thinking about deploying CCTV cameras in a shopping centre, the problem of cost will invariably pop up.
The question of cost is particularly murky because it involves more than the cost of the cameras themselves. Installing CCTV cameras can also incur expenses with legal counsel or employee training, for example.
In general, you will only be able to get a clear picture of the costs involved after a thorough survey of the monitored areas and after figuring out the technical requirement of your CCTV cameras. As a general rule, the cost of a CCTV installation is primarily dictated by the feature set and capabilities of the cameras and their software, and not necessarily by the type or number of cameras.
Well-designed security systems are modular and upgraded, so as your needs evolve, it is possible to install additional security cameras with higher capabilities.
The reverse is true as well: if you requirements are modest, a modest camera will suffice. Many small businesses, especially small retail stores, need no more than one or two well-aimed cameras with a basic archival system.
What is required by any system, of any size, is periodic inspection and maintenance. A malfunctioning camera can deprive you of critical evidence in case of theft; worse, it can create a false sense of security, which a technologically-inclined thief can exploit.
There are many benefits to using CCTV systems in shopping centres. Crime deterrence, better shopping experience and the potential for evidence gathering are well-understood benefits of a solid, widely-deployed technology.
At the same time, using CCTV systems comes with a great deal of responsibility, moral and legal. CCTV cameras are accessible and easily available, but the decision to use them must be weighed carefully and responsibly.
Have more questions about installing CCTV cameras in shopping centres that this guide didn’t cover? We’re happy to answer them! Give us a call or drop us a line – one of our experience consultants will get in touch to help you choose the perfect system.