Vehicle Cameras And The Law – Genuine Audio Recording Or Snooping – BEWARE

This article pertains specifically to UK law and the rules of the road.

Posted 23 Dec 2021

David Bowie sang about his musings on Sound and Vision, and many fleet and transport managers have done the same over the years. In fact, we often receive requests to install cameras with built-in mics rather than the silent, video-only models. But adding audio recording to your equipment opens up some potentially troubling issues that you need to be aware of. We’ll outline them below.

The desire to record audio as well as video is quite natural. It’s not so much during an incident, but it is very useful afterwards when the third party, who perhaps caused the incident, says something incriminating. It is also very useful for vehicle security purposes where a thief’s voice, or something they say, may give away their identity.

But beware! In 2008 the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) released a revised CCTV code of practice. It stated that sound recording is unnecessary and, unless you have a very specific need, intrusive.  If used inappropriately you may therefore be violating the Right to Privacy section of the Human Rights Act 1998.

You therefore need to seriously consider the following:

A. Recording Audio In The Workplace

When the truck or vehicle is stopped at the depot, if you have a vehicle CCTV system that provides continuous recording/delayed switch-off (as our CameraMatics systems do), then you are technically recording in the workplace. But, more importantly, the cab is the driver’s ‘workplace’ hence laws against smoking in the workplace apply to commercial vehicles.

Recording what people say in the workplace is considered a major privacy issue, and much more so than just video recording. You will therefore need to justify the need for it and prove that your use of it will follow very clear and tightly controlled processes. This is essentially the same situation as the issue of installing in-cab cameras, and is covered in our article on Driver Facing Cameras.

When the driver is in the cab resting, perhaps off-duty for long-distance drivers, there is an entirely different and elevated expectation of privacy than when they are driving and on-duty. Even then, private conversations cannot technically be used against the driver unless it is material to a breach of employment or a law.

So, you need to outline why you need to record audio. What it will be used for and what it won’t be used for. You also need to mark the vehicle to very clearly show that video and audio is being recorded. This protects the worker, who might say something off-camera in a private conversation, from being sanctioned.

All this needs to be included in privacy policies and employee contracts so it is very clear to employees how you intend to use and monitor these recordings.

Vehicle Cameras And The Law – Genuine Audio Recording Or Snooping – BEWARE

B. Recording Audio In Public

This is similar to the issue of recording audio in the workplace, except that it affects the general public who have no relationship to your company. You must therefore very clearly label the vehicle and never use content that is not relevant to any situation or incident related to the vehicle.

Vehicle Cameras And The Law – Genuine Audio Recording Or Snooping – BEWARE

C. General Consideration

The last thing you want to happen is that you add audio and cover all your regulatory requirements, only to discover that the quality is poor. So be sure to test the solution in all situations, such as driving (to assess wind noise) and stopped with engine on and off, to be sure you can record audio clearly.

But the main warning we would ask you to heed is not to publish anything on a public site or forum that includes any audio (or video for that matter) that can be used to personally identify anyone where you do not have their permission and especially where you intend to bring a case against someone recorded in the video. Publicly posting content before a case is concluded could negatively impact the outcome, and it is certainly frowned upon.

Finally, and in short, you must be able to show that you are recording audio to protect your employees rather than snooping. It is important that you have very clear privacy and retention policies in place and all employees are given them. Also, the policies and processes should be audited to ensure you are fully compliant. The first thing any defence barrister will do is to try to exclude the recorded content from any case. Any issues with non-compliance would point to the recordings being gathered illegally and that would see the evidence being thrown out. If this sounds like a lot of effort then your need for audio is probably not great enough. In this case, stick to just video recording.

This one of a series of articles about vehicle cameras and the law, however, should you have any concerns or questions about the implementation or use of vehicle cameras, we would suggest you consult with your solicitor. If you would like to discuss your vehicle camera and video safety technology needs, be sure to contact us as we’ll be delighted to answer your questions and provide our expert advice on the various options.