What is a “surveillance camera” under Belgian law?

A surveillance camera falling within the scope of the (revised) Camera Act is:

  • any fixed, temporarily fixed, or mobile observation system,
  • that is intended to survey and guard certain areas, and
  • that processes images for this purpose.

The purpose for which a camera is used (surveillance vs. recreational use) is therefore a deciding element.

Relevance of the location of the cameras

Another relevant criterion to determine exactly which legal obligations apply, is the location of the cameras.

Surveillance cameras can be placed:

  • at the entrance of or inside an “enclosed area not accessible to the public” (i.e. only accessible to own employees and authorised visitors, for example a company’s offices),
  • at the entrance of or inside an “enclosed area accessible to the public” (for example a shop or restaurant), or
  • in a “non-enclosed area” (for example the public road or a public parking area).

Different rules to the use of surveillance cameras in each of these three types of “areas”.

Most important legal requirements

The most important legal requirements for the use of surveillance cameras can be summarized as follows:

  1. Record-keeping obligation: obligation to keep an internal record/register of camera surveillance activities, in addition to the general documentation obligation under article 30 GDPR; The modalities hereof (what needs to be included in the internal documentation) have been determined by Royal Decree of 8 May 2018. The register needs to be kept and updated for as long as the video surveillance lasts.
  2. Notification to the police: for camera’s already notified to the Belgian Privacy Commission in the past, this new notification will have to be made by 25 May 2020 at the latest; More information is included in the Royal Decree of 8 May 2018.
  3. Use of pictograms: the legal obligation to publicly disclose the use of camera’s by mandatory pictograms remains; The size and content of such pictograms has been determined by Royal Decree of 10 February 2008 (as amended on 28 May 2018) and depends on the type of “area” in which the cameras are placed; By 11 December 2018 all existing pictograms have to be replaced by new ones complying with these requirements.
  4. Transparency: Companies should have a separate privacy policy (or a chapter in their existing policy) that includes relevant information regarding the processing of surveillance images.

Viewing and storage of video recordings

As under the existing Camera Act, images can in principle (with some exceptions) not be stored longer than 1 month. Access to the images by third parties is restricted, although the persons recorded on tape do have access rights (as under the GDPR).

Real-time viewing of the images of surveillance cameras was prohibited under the Act of 2007, but the revised Camera Act now does leave some room for the use of a “control screen” with real-time images.

What about dash cams?

The revised Camera Act only allows the use of mobile surveillance cameras in “non-enclosed areas” (such as the public domain) by the police and public authorities. In “enclosed areas”, the rules are less strict.

What this means for the popular use of dash cams is still uncertain and urgently to be clarified.

Additional rules for workplace surveillance cameras

For the use of cameras for workplace surveillance purposes (e.g. to prevent theft), note that you should not only comply with the (revised) Camera Act, but also with the applicable labour law legislation. In Belgium, camera surveillance on the workplace is governed by Collective Bargaining Agreement no. 68.