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Nokia Observation: camera phone or CCTV?

Data Protection rears head

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Buyers of Nokia's new Observation camera run the risk of infringing the UK's Data Protection Act, it has emerged.

The Observation is a digicam with a built-in cellphone. Nokia is offering the device as a home and office security tool. The camera contains a heat-scanning motion detector. If it detects movement within its field of view it sends its owner a text message warning them of the fact. Pictures identifying the possible intruder are sent to by e-mail. The camera can operate at night, and a microphone capable of recording conversations.

However, if the camera takes the snap of the intruder's face - or anyone else for that matter - that is identifiable, it immediately comes into the scope of the UK's Data Protection Act and European Directive 95/46, which deals with the processing of personal data, ERT Weekly, the electrical retail business' newspaper, reports.

For Nokia and its UK customers, that means the device counts as a CCTV camera, and the user may have to register with the UK's Information Commissioner (formerly the Data Protection Registrar) at a cost of £35 per year. Users in other territories may have to register with local data protection organisations. The UK law covers computers and other devices with "some ability to process automatically, eg. CCTV systems". Failure to register is an offence.

Nokia's web site carries the following warning in the camera's legal information page and at the end of the FAQ: "Some jurisdictions have laws and regulations about the use of a device recording images and conversations in public or private areas and regarding the processing and further use of such data. Nokia encourages its customers to obey all laws and to honor the personal rights of others."

The Observer's manual adds: "National laws and regulations may place restrictions on recording images and regarding further processing and use of such data. Do not use this feature illegally. Honour the privacy and other legitimate rights of others and obey all laws governing, for example, data protection, privacy and publicity."

The trouble is, how many users are used to scanning web sites' legal notices pages, or the large print in manuals, let alone the small print?

The Observation is set to go on sale in the next few weeks, for around £300, says ERT Weekly. ®

Related Links

Nokia's Observation page
ERT Weekly: Nokia camera phone falls foul of Data Protection legislation

SANS - Survey on application security programs

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