Greetings from Brussels,
The city is starting to empty as the summer vacation period goes into full effect. If you haven’t spent much time in Brussels in late July or August, it takes on a slightly sleepy deserted mantle, particularly in the European quarter as the institutional machinery goes into standby mode. Nonetheless, for those of us holding down the fort, it remains a busy, as well as productive, time to get the necessary piece in motion come the start of September.
As I like to say, the sun never sets on the IAPP.
My wife recently brought to my attention an interesting development regarding Belgian privacy, which merits some comment. It appears that with relative stealth and general indifference, a significant amendment was adopted in March this year by the Parliament to what is commonly known as the “Camera Law,” which dates from 21 March 2007, regulating the installation and use of surveillance cameras. The law targets mobile cameras: fixed, temporary, intelligent, in all places open, closed, accessible to the public or not, whether they are placed in department stores, hospitals, airports, railway stations ... or in the street, even the private domain. That is to say: all the cameras of the Kingdom. The text of this newly amended law brings together a whole series of changes that may affect, directly or indirectly, the daily life of citizens. On 25 May 2018, its entry into force coincided with that of the EU General Data Protection Regulation; the newly amended camera law and the GDPR will both be applied, knowing that the GDPR will remain superior to the law.
The amendment was essentially to adopt new policing powers, adding to the existing framework a legal article entitled, "the installation and use of visible cameras by the police services.” Interestingly, this includes empowering the police services to install any fixed or mobile camera without going through any judicial authorization (as previously); although in what concerns private (or commercial) property, they will need the permission of the owner. Images captured by a camera placed by a third party may be processed with the agreement in principle of the local public authorities concerned and by the local police force or the Minister of the Interior if it concerns the federal police. A French summary of the amendments can be found here.
One significant new measure is that security guards may, in accordance with the law on private security and under the control of the police, engage in "real-time" viewing of surveillance camera images installed in open locations. Walking in the street takes on a whole new dimension.
How will this all be managed in terms of checks and balances? Where are the controls? Who will monitor the use and processing of surveillance (big) data to ensure it is done in compliance with privacy rights, especially given that it's no longer necessary to notify the Belgian DPA when installing surveillance cameras? I have found little mention in the way of how such verifications will be carried out. Notably, the judiciary authorizations and processes that were in place have now been removed under the new law.
Should we be worried? It seems powers (and controls) are being transferred from the judiciary to the executive branch, all in the name of our security in these modern and sometimes troubled times. And while we may benefit from the new surveillance regime via greater protection of our security and freedoms, you must ask whether you are comfortable surrendering blanket access to the state apparatus. The privacy activists must surely be experiencing cold sweats over these developments.
In the meantime: Smile; you’re on camera.
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