Video recordings for research purposes

When participants involved in a research project are filmed, it is relatively easy to protect their right to privacy. However, when third parties who are not directly involved in the project are filmed, a number of measures must be taken in order to protect their privacy.

Video recordings are used in research projects in order to document and evaluate human behaviour. The data thus obtained are often far more precise than anything that can be obtained by other means, such as a questionnaire. If the cameras only capture pictures of the persons participating in the project, it is relatively simple to apply data protection measures and to keep the risk of an infringement of their right to privacy as low as possible. Usually, such persons will have accepted of their own free will to take part in the research project; they know that they will be filmed and that their data will be used. At the very least, they will be given comprehensive information about the nature and purpose of the project.

The situation becomes somewhat more problematic when researchers switch on their cameras in zones that are accessible to the public because they will also by necessity film persons who are not directly involved in the project. It would be a mistake to believe that images of random passers-by are not personal data simply because their names are not known. These images can be attributed to specific individuals even without knowing their names, which is why they clearly must be treated as personal data and are therefore covered by data protection requirements.

Personal data may be used for research purposes even without the consent of the persons concerned provided that the study does not involve individual-related data and that the results of the published research do not allow any individual to be identified. In spite of the exemption that is thus granted to research work, researchers are nevertheless duty-bound to inform the persons involved that the data will be processed, which is quite difficult to do when filming in a public area. Passers-by who happen to come into the camera's field of vision will, as a rule, only discover that they are being filmed when they actually see the camera and the recording is taking place or has been completed.

In order to protect the privacy rights of these persons, the following points must be respected:

The application of the research exemption requires that any video images which allow individuals to be identified must either not be published or they must be distorted so as to render their identification impossible. It is not sufficient simply to mask a person's eyes since he or she can still be recognised by the way they walk or the clothes they wear.

Whenever possible, notice boards should be placed in a highly visible manner warning that video filming is taking place. Details should also be provided regarding the person to contact for those wishing to obtain information or to have images concerning them deleted. In cases where this is not possible, standard fact sheets - such as flyers or brochures - should be prepared in advance and distributed on site. The brochures should indicate the most important aspects of the data processing and also provide the contact details mentioned above. Those wishing to avail themselves of their right to information and the deletion of their data must be able to do so simply and at no cost to themselves.

Research exemptions do not under any circumstances allow video recording to be made of a person's genital area. Thus recordings in toilets, changing rooms, etc. are not authorised even within the context of a research project without the consent of the person concerned.