CCTV: A useful tool for protection or a system that intrudes?
An Original Essay by Rex Wong
In the modern world, technology plays a more important role in our lives than ever. The year 2020 has changed many things, including how we work and how we communicate. For many people, using technology is an important part of everyday life, but there is still one piece of technology that can cause a divisive reaction when discussed.
Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) refers to the use of cameras to transmit a signal to a specific place on a limited set of monitors. CCTV has many applications, and it can be used to assist with a range of tasks, from crime prevention to traffic monitoring and securing the home. Those who are authorised to view the recorded footage can do so by accessing an app or a website. The footage can also be stored for future reference. When CCTV is used in relation to strata communities, however, the issue becomes more complex. It can be difficult to define if the positives of embracing this technology are going to outweigh the negatives. So, what role does CCTV have to play when it comes to strata management?
Hesitancy to embrace a CCTV system may stem from concerns about privacy. Deciding who can monitor and access CCTV footage is not a decision to be made lightly, as the consequences of unsuitable use can be far reaching.
There is a residential building in South Australia located in an excellent location, with many of the units in the building tenanted. In 2020, the area began to experience a rising rate of crime. This building had no building manager appointed at the time, and the daily operation of the building was left to the management committee. At the 2020 AGM, all office bearers suggested installing a CCTV system. As a result of this meeting, cameras were installed at the common property and connected to a digital recorder. The Presiding Officer was appointed to regularly monitor the CCTV system for security purposes.
The system worked well at first, and it did help to stop crime. The Presiding Officer reported suspicious behaviour to the police, which led to extra police officers being stationed around the building. However, things started to change when the Presiding Officer began to monitor and retain the footage for her own personal use.
The CCTV footage provided uninterrupted surveillance to the common property, and it was easy for authorised personnel to access and duplicate the footage. Without approval from the Corporation, the Presiding Officer began to monitor the footage for evidence of her partner having an inappropriate relationship with another person. In addition to this, the Presiding Officer would also send emails to other tenants with footage attached, and remind them of the Corporation’s by-laws. The tenants were unhappy with the Presiding Officer’s actions, and began to regard themselves as ‘prisoners in the building’.
The tenants reported the actions of the Presiding Officer to their property managers and owners, but no response was received from either party. An owner raised the issue of privacy to the Corporation, but this was ignored, and further security measures were introduced. Many of the tenants sought legal advice and are now in the legal process with the Corporation over this issue.
What this story shows us is that a CCTV system can be used effectively to reduce crime and to protect those who live within a strata scheme. In terms of financial considerations, it may not have been feasible for such a building to have hired a security team to work year round. The CCTV system offers a relatively affordable and reliable way to cover this issue.
However, this story may also speak to the anxiety that some people have about CCTV, and how its presence may be considered to be invasive rather than constructive. If the use of CCTV is to be embraced within a strata community, then it must be managed correctly, with clear processes in place to prevent any misuse of footage or abuse of power.
In one of my previous roles, I experienced the usefulness of a CCTV system firsthand. I was reviewing the CCTV records when I realised some of the units within the Corporation had marks above the doorbells. Upon scanning more footage, I was able to see that several people had made the marks above the doorbells of these units. This was reported to our head office and the police, which led to the arrests of the suspects who had marked the units. We were later informed that the suspects were using this system to identify which units should be targeted for a break in. Having the CCTV footage meant that the suspects were able to be identified and arrested quickly, saving pain and hassle for the residents within the strata community.
These examples prove that a CCTV system can be a powerful and effective tool. The crucial element to deciding if it can be defined as useful or intrusive comes down to how the system is used. I believe that we, as Strata Managers, should always be an independent party and take instruction from the Corporation, but we can still offer suggestions as to how an effective CCTV system could function.
The Corporation may like to consider forming a security committee, to balance the interests of different stakeholders. This committee could include owners, tenants, agents, and the Strata Manager. The committee can also form its own procedures and monitoring mechanisms, and appoint