«Dashcams» are the latest trend on the video surveillance market. These are cameras installed in vehicles in order to film what is happening on the roads. People do this for various reasons, from simple entertainment to securing evidence in the event of accidents. In some countries these cameras are required by law or by insurers, but in Switzerland their use contravenes data protection principles.
Video cameras for vehicles, known as dashcams, are growing in popularity in Switzerland. They are increasingly being used to film the road in front of or behind a vehicle, either as a source of entertainment or as a source of evidence in the event of an accident. If people or vehicle number plates are recognisable on the films, this constitutes the processing of personal data, and the general rules on data processing laid down in the Data Protection Act must be complied with (see Factsheets «Video Surveillance by Private Individuals»). But these rules are often broken when dashcams are used. Where private individuals film the streets and roads around their vehicles, this inevitably amounts to the private video surveillance of public spaces. This type of surveillance is subject to very strict limits, as we explain in our Guidelines «Video Surveillance of Public Places by Private Individuals». Generally speaking, people fail to keep within these limits when using dashcams.
Basically these cameras record anyone on the street at the time. Normally the people concerned are unaware that they are being filmed; they only find out that a recording has been made when an accident occurs and they are shown the film. Data processing takes place in secret, which contravenes the principle of transparency. This is serious, as it makes it impossible for the persons concerned to assert their personal privacy rights before it is too late (right to information, right to take legal action, see «Die Rechte der betroffenen Personen bei der Bearbeitung von Personendaten» in German or «Droits de la personne concernée en matière de traitement de données personnelles» in French). This type of serious breach of data protection principles can never be justified on journeys filmed simply for entertainment (i.e. if the film is of a particularly spectacular trip and is going to be made available for public viewing). This is why no one should be recognisable on such recordings. But given the legal position, recordings made in order to be used as evidence are also problematic.
The principle of proportionality is also frequently breached when using dashcams. If the camera is run constantly in order to obtain evidence and thus everything is recorded (i.e. not just specific incidents such as accidents), data processing is not limited to people involved in an incident or who have acted unlawfully. Anyone within range of the camera is recorded indiscriminately. Doing this is totally disproportionate to the purpose of the exercise, as all road users come under general suspicion and a stockpile is made of processed data. This procedure is rather different from what the police do, as they normally record data on patrol only if they observe a specific breach of the traffic regulations or at least have good reason to believe that such a breach is being committed.
In summary we would reiterate that using dashcams on public roads normally breaches the principles of transparency and proportionality if specific persons can be recognised in the recordings. These breaches are serious and can only be justified if there is an overriding private or public interest in making the recordings.
Normally there is no such justification, with the result that the recordings constitute an unlawful breach of privacy. Guaranteeing road safety is the duty of the police and not a matter for private road users. This means dashcams cannot be justified on road safety grounds. Even the understandable desire to have pictures to hand that can be used as evidence in the event of an accident is not an interest that outweighs the right to personal privacy, especially as such recordings seldom provide clear-cut evidence of what actually happened.
For these reasons, dashcams should not be used in public places.
Last update: July 2013