Caught on camera: Getting candid about bodycams and data protection

Body worn video cameras (bodycams) are small devices worn on the front of clothing which record visual and audio information.

Historically, bodycams have been used by those working in security and public service. However, changing Covid-19 rules and the cost-of-living crisis have led to a rise in abuse and violence towards retail workers and many retailers are responding by investing more in the safety of their staff. As part of this move to better protect staff, we have seen an increased number of retailers adopting bodycams or similar technology, in a bid to ensure their staff feel safe and more empowered. Those who have done so have seen a reduction in assaults.

However, while bodycams can help deescalate situations, improve safety, and reduce conflict, their use also raises important questions around data protection.

Bodycams and the campaign against retail abuse

The USDAW Freedom From Fear Survey 2017 found that every day, 250 shop workers are the victim of a violent incident. Our 2021 survey, Harassment in Retail, reported that one in five of cases of abuse experienced by store workers were violent in nature, while as part of its 2023 campaign, Respect retail, identified that 90% of store workers had experienced abuse.

Bodycams have proven effective against the scourge of harassment in retail. Tesco's use of bodycams in its stores resulted in a 12% reduction in physical assaults and after rolling out bodycams to over 50 of its stores, The Central England Co-op reported that employees felt safer at work, and that bodycams acted as a deterrent, preventing crimes before they took place.

Bodycam recordings can also provide evidence for prosecutors, improve the prospects of securing a conviction and increase the sentence as a result of  the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which introduces harsher penalties for attacks on retail workers. Recording someone without their consent doesn't, however, sit easily with the transparency requirements of the UK General Data Protection Regulation(UK GDPR).

So, is it possible to keep your workers safe and deter crimes while fulfilling your obligations under data protection legislation?

Data protection pitfalls of bodycams – and how to avoid them

The use of audio and video recordings from bodycams brings an increased risk of privacy intrusion to individuals in particular where the data collected by bodycams is classed as special category data (e.g. if videos are taken revealing an individual's race). Note that the processing of special category data is subject to stricter controls under the UK GDPR.

If you're thinking of using bodycams in your business, you need to be able to demonstrate you have a lawful basis for capturing personal data in this way under both Article 6 and, in respect of special category data, Article 9 of the UK GDPR.

It is important that you are able to show that the use of bodycams is necessary, proportionate and addresses a particular need (i.e. there is no other reasonable and less intrusive way to achieve your purpose).

In most instances, this will mean undertaking a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) to properly assess the risks to individuals and documenting:

  • The legal basis on which you are relying when recording individuals
  • Why the use of bodycams is justified in the specific scenario.
  • Any mitigating steps that you will take to reduce the risks to the individuals whose data may be captured.

If it is likely that special category data will be captured by your use of bodycams, it may also be necessary for you to complete an "appropriate policy document" which is designed to offer further protection to, and ensure you have considered your obligations in respect of, special category data.

In order to comply with the transparency requirements under the UK GDPR, you will also need to ensure your privacy policy includes specific information about your use of bodycams (and the personal data, including special category data, that may be processed as a result).

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has produced Guidance for the use of Bodycams to help businesses remain on the right side of the UK GDPR. Below, we set out the key points to note.

Key privacy takeaways for businesses when using bodycams

  1. The use of bodycams must be fair, necessary, and legal.
  2. Bodycams should only record the minimum amount of personal data required (for specified purposes) - continuous recording can be excessive and is not encouraged.
  3. Individuals should be informed that a video or audio recording is about to take place, and the reason for this before the bodycam is turned on (i.e. requiring the employee to clearly state that they will be turning the bodycam on and/or placing clear signage around your stores indicating that bodycams may be used).
  4. The best approach is to use bodycams which allow separate audio and video recording (the former being less intrusive from a privacy perspective).
  5. Recordings must be stored safely, and businesses should consider using encryption to prevent unauthorised access to the data.
  6. The data should only be disclosed when necessary e.g. for specified purposes, or to aid law enforcement.
  7. Data must be retained for the minimum amount of time required, and then deleted.
  8. Any privacy requests from individuals must be responded to appropriately (this will require you to store the bodycam footage in a way which means you can easily identify, locate and retrieve recordings relating to a specific individual or event).

Navigating the bodycam minefield

Bodycams are an effective tool which retail stores can use to protect their staff against abuse. On the flip side, it's worth noting that bodycams can also be used against retailers. For example, there are reports of YouTubers wearing bodycams and provoking retail workers in the hope of getting a response. The result is bad publicity and damage to a business's reputation on social media.

Our Commercial team has experience advising numerous retail clients. We're here to help you navigate the requirements under the UK GDPR if you are considering implementing body cams or similar types of technology. If you'd like to engage more on the topic of harassment in retail, don’t miss the latest episode of Foot Anstey's upcoming Retail Matters podcast.