Use of the camera images of citizens and companies in crime detection

Citizens and companies will soon be allowed to publish camera images of theft, burglaries or vandalism. Expectations are that deployment of these ‘extra eyes and ears’ will improve the chance of catching perpetrators. Private individuals and business-owners are not currently allowed to publish camera images of suspects.

This is provided for in a bill of the Minister for Security and Justice, Mr. Van der Steur, which was sent to various advisory authorities today. This will mean that in some cases the dissemination of camera images is no longer a matter for the police and the Public Prosecution Service.

The State Secretary took this measure in response to a desire of the majority in the Lower House. The new bill is a revised version of the bill on which the Council of State issued advice in 2012. It also meets a social need. Research shows that 71% of the Dutch population are in favour of taking away the anonymity of criminals with the help of digital resources. The business sector has also asked for increased opportunities for using camera images.

Camera images of offences can play an important role in investigations. This is evident from the government's investigative programmes which make use of a selection of camera images. On the other hand, the business world and private individuals have widespread access to security cameras and smartphones.

The recordings thus obtained offer useful points of departure for solving crimes. The Minister wants to make use of these possibilities by amending the law and making use of modern means of communication. ‘It is not new for us to ask for help from citizens during investigations; which is why we should allow them to use resources that are in keeping with the present times’, according to Van der Steur.

But camera images will have to be used carefully. This will require clear rules. The Minister wants to avoid images of the ‘wrong’ suspect being published or that innocent on-lookers and victims are recognisable. It is about achieving the right balance between the interest of protecting the personal life of the suspect and of on-lookers and witnesses, the interest of the victim and the interest society attaches to tracking down perpetrators.

Soon it will be necessary to first report the crime in question. The camera images will actually have to be handed over to the police. Due to the importance of identifying the suspected perpetrator, the images must clearly show the crime itself and the suspected perpetrator. For example: the camera shows a shoplifter putting things into his bag and walking out of the shop without paying.

People will not be allowed to place images of acquaintances or classmates on the internet who have committed, for instance, vandalism, because their identity is already known.

Furthermore, private individuals and businesses will not be allowed to publish images of violent crimes such as murder, manslaughter and assault. The police and the judiciary will take care of this themselves, because these are complex matters with a big risk to the investigation or the fear of private justice. Early publication can lead to private justice, or result in witnesses being threatened.

The new law should be as independent as possible of technology. It makes no difference whether recordings are made with a security camera, a smartphone or a photocamera. Responsibility always rests on the person who places the images of a burglary, a theft or vandalism on the internet. The same applies after the identity of the suspect has been determined. The publishing party must then remove the images, insofar as he/she is capable of doing so.