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A man complained to our office about his neighbour’s surveillance cameras. The complaint appeared to be a continuation of a long running series of disputes between the two neighbours.

The man said he and his wife were establishing a childcare centre and had encountered a lot of problems with the neighbour. The man became even more concerned when he discovered the neighbour had mounted four surveillance cameras that pointed onto his property.

The man said part of his property was residential, and part of it was for the couple’s new childcare business. One of the neighbour’s cameras pointed directly at his grandson’s play area, while the others overlooked the area that would be the childcare centre. The cameras pointing into the childcare centre would be able to film the teachers and children. The man was very concerned about the invasion of privacy. He complained to Police but that did not resolve the issue. So he complained to the Privacy Commissioner.

Privacy Act

The man’s complaint raised issues under principles 1 to 4 of the Privacy Act, which deal with the collection of personal information.

These principles specify when personal information can be collected by an agency; who information can be collected from; what individuals should be told when their information is collected; and how information should be collected.

Section 56 of the Privacy Act says the privacy principles do not apply when personal information is being collected by an individual and that information is being collected or held principally for the individual’s personal, family or household affairs. 

However, section 56 does not apply if the collection, use or disclosure would be “highly offensive” to an ordinary reasonable person. The question we considered in this case was whether the collection of information by the neighbour would be highly offensive to an ordinary reasonable person.

If the cameras were recording, we decided the situation would meet the threshold of being highly offensive, since the property was used as a childcare centre and because of the obtrusive ways the cameras were pointing toward the man’s property.

Neighbour’s response

We contacted the neighbour who informed us the four cameras were dummy cameras. They had flashing lights to fool people into thinking they were working. In fact, they were incapable of recording.  

The neighbour also said the man’s actions against him were part of a campaign of harassment against neighbours opposed to the childcare development. The neighbour said the man who made the complaint against him had installed surveillance cameras on his property.

OPC view

Two of our investigating officers carried out a site visit to verify that the cameras were fakes. The neighbour was not cooperative, however, and said our investigators were trespassing. From the site visit, we were unable to confirm if the cameras were fakes.

The neighbour did later provide numerous photos of packaging for the cameras to support his claim the cameras were fakes. He sent us an email from another neighbour stating the cameras were fakes and he also sent a fake camera to our office. While there was no proof this was one of the cameras he had mounted on his property, he did send us a video which supported his assertion.

At this point, we decided it was impossible to prove a negative (that the cameras were not recording information). The neighbour had given us some evidence to show that the cameras are not capable of collecting information, and we could not conclude the cameras were operating and collecting personal information.

In these situations, one of our roles is to attempt to resolve complaints by getting the parties to meet. Because one of the parties was unwilling to meet the other, we were unable to attempt a resolution in this way.

We concluded there had not been an interference with privacy and we informed the man who made the complaint of his right to take the matter to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

October 2017

Surveillance  cameras ‒ neighbours ‒ collection  ‒  highly offensive ‒ no interference ‒ Privacy Act 1993; s56, principles 1-4