This article pertains specifically to UK law and the associated powers of the Police in the UK.
The law in regards to vehicle camera footage is a little unclear, as with any more recent development in technology or data. The courts will therefore typically work to the most appropriate ruling, precedent or act to enforce the law in these cases.
The Police will therefore use (and have used) PACE, (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) to seize and retain camera footage. The key sections are:
(i) that it has been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence; or
(ii) that it is evidence in relation to an offence which he is investigating or any other offence;
And (iii) that it is necessary to seize it in order to prevent it being concealed, lost, damaged, altered or destroyed.
The powers apply, like Section 19, i.e. if they are on the premises they can seize it if they believe it contains evidence.
This is needed as data is not “property” or an “item” so the law specifically describes it in Section 20
(a) any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or hovercraft;
(b) any offshore installation;
(ba) [any renewable energy installation;]
(c) any tent or movable structure;
This means that technically, not only can they seize the footage from your vehicle, but they can hold on to it for as long as they see fit argue a case.
So, given the fact that the police will attend any incident involving a large commercial vehicle, and certainly any serious incident involving any commercial vehicle, you should be prepared for footage from a camera in your vehicle being seized. But there are some specifics to this based on the following scenarios:
If it is obvious, or there is sufficient suspicion, that you (your driver) caused the accident, especially if there is a fault with the vehicle or wrongdoing by the driver, the police officer in attendance can use section 19 of PACE to seize the footage.
Even where someone hits you/your vehicle and it is obvious that you/your driver was not to blame, the police officer on scene may request (but ultimately can seize) the footage.
Where you/your driver was not directly involved in an accident, but you have footage that is relevant to it, the police officer can request the footage, but technically cannot seize it. But this is a grey area and it becomes especially tricky if the incident is severe. In this case, your vehicle is now part of the accident scene and therefore the investigation, so you may have to surrender your footage.
The final issue is around the physical aspect of accessing the footage. If you have a dashcam in your vehicle, the device can be easily removed or tampered with (that’s not really a positive where you might need to rely on the footage to clear you of blame). That does mean that the police officer can simply remove the SD card or the whole camera and take it away. They may have the means to take the footage while on scene. That means you get your device back there and then. But if not, your memory card or whole device may be taken away.
But what if you have a more professional device in your vehicle, such as a hard-fitted and wired DVR box connected to one or more cameras around the vehicle? The DVR is typically installed in a difficult to reach location and if they are like the ProVision DVRs, the media is behind a locked flap. This protects your footage, but it means that the officer cannot physically secure the ‘evidence’. They will therefore need to find an alternate way to get it. This is where a remote cloud-connected plan comes in, as you can access the footage in question remotely, download it, and send it to anyone who needs it, including the police. Without this functionality, and if deemed necessary, the police officer may simply impound your vehicle, which they will do anyway in most cases as they do a mechanical audit of the vehicle.