Case law
13 October 2017

Privacy for thieves

The Constitutional Court finally closed a lengthy dispute over the legality of publishing a thief’s photograph on a social network by the victim of the theft. However, the court did not deal with the details of the case, stating only that the previous decisions had complied with the law and had not shown any deficiencies. The Constitutional Court thus confirmed the opinion formulated by the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC), which concluded that publishing a photograph obtained from a camera system was illegal and violated the thief’s right to personal data protection. How shall we then proceed to protect our property effectively?

Linda Kolaříková
Daniel Szpyrc

The case in question involved the theft of an electric bicycle from a shop. The shop owner had a camera recording of the thief and published the photograph of his face the next day. Although this helped to apprehend the offender, the company was fined CZK 5 000 by the Office for Personal Data Protection.

In certain situations, the Personal Data Protection Act allows the processing of personal data even without the prior consent of the affected person. Such situations undoubtedly also include the protection of property. The personal data processor, however, may only resort to this exception if two preconditions are met: first, the data processing must be necessary to protect the property; second, the right to the protection of property must not be outweighed by the captured person’s right to the protection of their private and personal life. Both rights thus have to be measured against each other, and the right to the protection of property must prevail.

According to SAC, installing and using a camera system in publicly accessible areas and subsequently handing the recordings over to the police do meet the above conditions. The police then have the legal authority to publish the recordings. In contrast, should the victim publish the photograph or video, the precondition of necessity will not have been met. While the very purpose of the records is to help identify and capture the offender, the decision on their publishing has to be made by the relevant public authorities.

According to the court, in cases like this one, the injured party can do nothing but hand the camera recordings over to the relevant police body, and rely on them doing their job. However, considering the police success rate in investigating stolen items, the ruling is not at all helpful in the protection of one’s property.

The Constitutional Court’s decision has thus been subject to considerable criticism, even by lawyers, as it seems unjust that in the above proportionality test, weighing the infringement of the offender’s personal rights against the injured party’s rights to the protection of ownership, the interest of a criminal offender should prevail – at least under the circumstances.

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