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In the Netherlands you should not have your security cameras record the public space (e.g. the road in front of your house), basically because recording the public space would infringe on people's privacy allegedly under the GDPR1. Someone correctly pointed out to me in a comment on a news article however that you are allowed to use your smartphone to record in public (sure, with a decent number of limitations, and you can't publish anything that shows someone's face too 'centrally', but still). And after researching it for a bit I can't figure out what the difference would be between the two. All the arguments against the use of security cameras monitoring the public space seem to apply even more so to intentionally recording people on the street. Is there a legal difference between the two?

1: Example source: Dutch Data Protection Authority. Which by itself sounds sensible, but then why is it allowed when you record your own private property and someone enters it? Would that just be a different balance being struck when considering it as a legitimate interest?

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  • Bonus question: Does someone know whether this interpretation of the GDPR applies to security cameras is fairly consistent across the EU? Feb 23 at 20:56
  • That data protection authority info is not the law, but its apparently wrong interpretation. Household exception should apply to both scenarios.
    – Greendrake
    Feb 24 at 0:46
  • The EDPB has issued guidelines on video devices, but it is focused on video surveillance (e.g. CCTV or dashcams). Recording a particular scene is fundamentally different from permanent surveillance. But such manual recordings can be in scope of the GDPR as well, and if so would need a legal basis + safeguards.
    – amon
    Feb 24 at 19:39

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I will focus on the difference between a security camera and a person filming:

Various countries in the EU have different laws, the GDPR unifying this to an extent. But each country could easily be more strict or have their own additional laws with the GDPR.

As for your question: filming in public is restricted by certain laws. Without looking at them and the differences in each country, it is safe to say that each European country has restrictions of some kind, whether it's the GDPR or other local laws.

A human controlling a camera can adhere to those restrictions and make sure the law is followed. A camera that is filming automatically 24/7 will not be able to follow any of those restrictions. Given that there are laws based on who or what is in the picture, given enough time, it will break laws at some point.

Compare that to other activities. You can go out onto the street and roundhouse kick. Because you, as a human being, made sure that nobody else is around and nobody gets harmed. It might look weird, but it's legal in public, if you make sure no one is harmed and no other laws are broken. It becomes illegal, if you actually hit someone or threaten someone. So if you build a automatism that roundhouse kicks a spot in public, indiscriminately all the time, it will harm someone. At some point, it will hit someone, because there is no mechanism not to.

That is why an activity controlled by a human, making sure to follow the law is legal. A mechanism indiscriminately taking an action whether it's legal or not, when you know it might not be legal in certain circumstances... is not.


In the Bundesdatenschutzgesetz (BDSG) § 4 Videoüberwachung öffentlich zugänglicher Räume covers if and when you may use cameras in publicly accessible spaces, other EU countries will have similar laws, as they are based on the GDPR.

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