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Christmas, cameras and hams Richard Stephen
22 December 2016

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Around Christmas time, a woman and her friend went to a supermarket to look at hams. After looking at the prices, they left the supermarket without making a purchase.

The next day, the woman was told by a friend who worked at another supermarket that there was a photograph of both her and her friend on the wall in the staff-only area. This photo implied that the woman and her friend were potential shoplifters who were targeting Christmas hams. She also learned that her photo had been sent to other supermarkets.

A couple of days later, the woman visited the supermarket again and spoke to the manager. He explained that her behaviour had made him suspicious. He said she entered through an uncontrolled door, she had looked at the ham for some time, and she had left the store via the same door and had not made a purchase. The manager apologised, and offered her a gift voucher.

The woman said there was no evidence to support the manager’s accusation and she felt the manager did not understand the humiliation it caused her, and the possible impact on her employment.

The Privacy Act

Collection

Principle 1 of the Privacy Act says that personal information must be only collected when the collection is for a lawful purpose connected with what the agency does, and it is necessary to collect the information for that purpose.

In our view, the woman’s personal information in the photograph was collected lawfully, and it was used lawfully for the purposes for which it was collected. It is reasonable for shoppers in a supermarket to be aware they are being filmed. The use of security cameras to deter shoplifting is a common practice, and consumers are usually informed they are being filmed for this purpose. 

Accuracy

The woman’s complaint also raised issues under principle 8 of the Privacy Act. Under principle 8, an agency must take reasonable steps to check that information is accurate, complete, relevant, up to date, and not misleading before using it. An agency needs to consider factors such as proposed use, the practicalities of verifying accuracy, and the probability, severity and extent of potential harm for the individual should the information be inaccurate.

Although CCTV cameras capture a photographic record of an event or person, there is still the possibility that footage can be incomplete or misleading.

Our view

In considering this case, we assessed whether the supermarket’s use of the woman’s image caused harm, and whether it was reasonable for the supermarket to use her image for this purpose. We considered that in the context of a supermarket watching out for shoplifting, it was reasonable for the woman’s behaviour to warrant suspicion. 

Sharing an image which suggests someone may be shoplifter is likely to cause embarrassment. However, the images of the woman were displayed in staff-only areas, not to the public. The images were removed once she notified the supermarket about her concerns, and they were no longer displayed when she complained. The manager also apologised and offered her a gift voucher.

We thought the supermarket had taken reasonable steps to make sure the information was accurate, and that they used it in a way that was proportional to the problem they were trying to solve.

We advised the woman that it was unnecessary to conduct an investigation in these circumstances, and closed the file.

Image via Pixabay

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  • I feel that you have not taken this incident seriously.
    Creeping surveillance such as this never goes away.
    For the rest of her life this woman will be under suspicion.
    Very disappointing that you see no problem.

    Posted by Glenn Webster, 26/12/2016 6:43pm (12 months ago)

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The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

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