More security cameras threaten public privacy, watchdogs say


Privacy watchdogs Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens (AP) and Bits of Freedom are worried that the growing number of security cameras is threatening public privacy and leading to unauthorised use by police.

Figures requested by tech website VPNGids from police camera registration project Camera in beeld show that there are currently 313,354 private security cameras in the Netherlands that the police have been given permission to access, compared to 288,530 in 2019.

This number includes surveillance cameras installed by government agencies and businesses, which make up three quarters of the total, as well as private cameras, which have been proliferating by almost a thousand a year, the figures show.

Police cannot use the surveillance cameras for live viewing but the register includes their location, who the owner is and how long images are stored for. Police can ask to see the footage for ‘major investigations’ such as murder, armed robberies and missing persons cases.

Research by current affair programme Nieuwsuur showed some 90% of the cameras used as a security measure to protect private homes and businesses, also cover (part) of the street, which is illegal, and would potentially make police use of the footage questionable, AP spokesman Quinten Snijders told AD.

“But apart from being illegal, we need to ask ourselves if that is what we want. If we are all going to install cameras to keep an eye on the neighbourhood, no one can walk the streets without being filmed,” he said.

Police dispute the 90% claim and say “at most 25%” of private surveillance cameras are filming the public road. Snijders will be talking to police about the issue some time this week, he said.

The increase in cameras, in part caused by adding transport ministry cameras to the police database, is a long-term trend, Emi van der Ven of the VPNGids told the paper. ‘I am more worried about the number of doorbell cameras,” she said.

Apart from illegally recording what is happening in the street, doorbell cameras are also prone to hacking, AP and Bits of Freedom said, particularly because owners do not change their passwords.

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