CCTV Audio Recording and the Law

A question we often get asked in this business is why most surveillance cameras don’t come with audio recording built it. Whilst we do have some specialist cameras with audio and also microphone attachments, there are a lot cameras and DVRs don’t come with audio monitoring. There is a practical reason behind this and that is to bring manufacturing costs down, but there is also an ethical and legal reason too which you should be aware of before setting up audio monitoring on your CCTV system for personal or business application.

In 2008 the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) released its revised CCTV code of practice that stated sound recording is unnecessary and, in most cases, intrusive.  However is doesn’t end there , if used in appropriately you may also be violating the Right to Privacy section of the Human Rights Act 1998 (soon to be replaced by an updated version called British Bill of Rights). Violating privacy laws is a serious crime, so we want to make sure our customers are as informed as possible when it comes to the use of audio recording in CCTV.


Can I use audio recording in the workplace?

Audio recording is used in a large number of businesses in the UK (eg. For call centre training), however CCTV audio recording is a sensitive issue which you may find your employees will have a problem with if used intrusively; whether intentional or not. CCTV’s primary purpose in the workplace should be not only to protect your assets but also to protect your employees as well. If you believe that video and audio surveillance will be of a benefit to your employees, then it may be worth proceeding with if you can meet ICO's conditions.

Here is a quote from ICOs code of practice related to the use of audio recording:

The use of audio recording, particularly where it is continuous, will, in most situations, be considered more privacy intrusive than purely visual recording. Its use will therefore require much greater justification. Audio recording should only be used where:

• You have identified a need or issue which can be characterised as a pressing social need and can evidence that this need must be addressed.

  1. You have considered other less privacy intrusive methods of addressing the need.
  2. Having reviewed the other less privacy intrusive methods, you have concluded that these will not appropriately address the identified issue and the only way to address the issue is through the use of audio recording.
  3. You should ensure that at the point of purchase of the audio system all appropriate privacy by design methods have been incorporated into the system. If you have already bought the system, you should look to see if you can incorporate any privacy by design technologies.
  4. If you are using audio recording you should make sure that the system you have bought provides a high enough quality of recording to achieve your stated aim.
  5. You should make it clear to data subjects that audio recording is taking place, over and above any visual recording which is already occurring.
  6. The best way to make sure these requirements are met is to carry out a thorough privacy impact assessment. (Please also see section 7.2 for specific detail on audio recording in relation to BWV systems).


Audio recording is of course useful for capturing a reliable record where staff members are in frequently in a vulnerable position facing the public such as the driver’s cab on public buses, some help systems also allow you to set up two-way communications with an operator, or you could also opt for a system that uses audio alerts to trigger when noise patterns suddenly change such as ‘shouting’.

If you need further advice on whether or not using audio recording in your business is appropriate then I recommend contacting ICO. Here are their contact details.

Equally if you think that your employer might be violating your rights you can report a concern through ICO’s website or click contact details above for advice.

Can I use audio recording at home?

This is entirely up to you if you want to set this up in your own home. After all if is your own privacy and rights so it is up to you to decide so the law is far less restrictive. If you wish to setup something like this in your own home you should discuss it first with other residents/any family who might live with you. It would also be your responsibility to make a reasonable effort to inform any invited guests who may visit either verbally or by having a sign posted as they enter your home.

Need Further Help?

Speak to us directly on email, phone or live chat about what it is you're trying to achieve with this system and we do our best to advise you.