Where police surveillance is illegal

Video surveillance by the Uri police may be illegal

Video surveillance by the Uri police may be illegal

The Uri canton police had the inmates of detention cells monitored by camera. For the cantonal data protection officer, this could possibly be “clearly unlawful”.

Anyone who is temporarily arrested in the canton of Uri may end up in a so-called distance cell. This is a prison cell in which an arrested person is locked up for a short time. There are several of them in Uri: on the one hand at various works yards, on the other hand at the Ankenwaage police station in Altdorf. For a certain time the police have apparently had the inmates of such cells monitored by video camera - to the displeasure of the cantonal data protection agency.

As can be seen in the 2015–2019 activity report from the Uri data protection office, all four cells in the Göschenen work yard, for example, are being monitored by a camera, and that continuously. "From a data protection point of view, there are considerable doubts as to whether continuous video surveillance [...] on the one hand complies with the necessary requirement for the performance of a police task and on the other hand adheres to the principle of proportionality," writes data protection officer Karl Stadler in his report. If this is not the case, the continuous video surveillance would be “clearly illegal”.

"Massive interference with personal integrity"

Because with the video surveillance of people it concerns "a massive interference with the personal integrity" of a person. "Particularly sensitive personal data may only be processed by authorities if there is either a legal basis for it or if processing [...] appears to be really necessary for the fulfillment of a legal task," Stadler refers to the cantonal data protection law.

For Stadler, however, several questions remain unanswered for the final assessment of the case, as he writes. For example, to what extent the cells are used at all, how intensively they are monitored and whether the occupants are informed about the presence of the camera. In certain cases, continuous monitoring may also be necessary if a person at risk of suicide is imprisoned, the data protection officer gives an example.

Unclear when the cameras were installed

When asked, the Uri canton police did not want to comment on whether they are still having the distance cells monitored, nor on the extent to which they are doing this. «Your questions relate to the activity report of the data protection office of the canton Uri. The business is currently in a political process. Therefore we cannot give you any information on this », writes the police media office.

Incidentally, the canton police approached the data protection officer of their own accord, and this last autumn. "The main thing was that the police wanted to have clarity under what conditions and under what circumstances the operation of such a surveillance system can be viewed as compliant with data protection law," writes Karl Stadler on request. He does not know when exactly the cameras were installed.

Details will possibly come to light in one of the upcoming district council meetings. The Uri canton parliament will presumably deal with the data protection report next autumn.