Privacy and Security Challenges of Visual Monitoring in Railways and Train Stations

Jakub Tazbir

I. Introduction

Railways and train stations, critical components of modern transportation infrastructure, have increasingly embraced visual monitoring technologies to enhance security and ensure passenger safety. Integrating surveillance systems in these public areas, however, creates significant privacy and security challenges. This article analyses legal considerations behind visual surveillance in railways and train stations emphasizing the importance of compliance with GDPR, the right of access and privacy measures. We encourage everyone to learn more about general aspects of data protection in the age of visual monitoring in transportation. You can also find more information on ensuring privacy in CCTV surveillance in another article on our website.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and UK GDPR which is a twin version of GDPR for the UK has brought significant changes in the way organizations handle personal data. The rail industry is moving toward greater and more innovative use of personal data.

II. The Use of Visual Monitoring Technologies in Railways and Train Stations

Intelligent transportation systems will play a vital role in modern countries and in the smart cities of the future. Rail transportation, especially, is gaining attention as a promising solution to cope with the mobility challenges in large urban areas. As railways and train stations evolve to meet the needs of a fast-moving global world, the adoption of visual monitoring technology is becoming a necessity. CCTV cameras, strategically placed at train stations and on trains, deter criminals and help respond to incidents quickly. CCTV has a variety of uses, it allows to identify and track suspects and their movements following a reported incident. Images taken from train station and CCTV systems are regularly circulated to local police and other agencies and frequently issued to the media. Courts are used to have CCTV recording as part of the evidence package. Video recordings can often play a very important role in bringing the guilty to justice, even before a case reaches court, CCTV evidence presented to a suspect or their legal representative often persuades them to admit guilt, saving the time of police, court and witnesses. Visual monitoring in railways and train stations provide opportunities to improve security, supervise implemented safety procedures, manage incidents, and protect property. Very often recordings are evidence in legal proceedings and are the basis for claims, usually indispensable.

Of course, while the benefits are indisputable, there is an associated risk to the privacy of millions of people around the world. Consider that every person using public transportation is recorded every day by multiple cameras capturing that person's appearance, image and behaviour. In fact, it has come to the point that hardly anyone is able to give the exact number of cameras installed in transportation systems (and the number keeps growing). Research by concludes that in London there is now 1 CCTV Camera for every 13 people, meaning there are now 691,000 CCTV Cameras in London, it means that the average Londoner is caught on CCTV 300 times a day. When it comes to transportation there are 15,576 CCTV cameras in London Underground train stations. The numbers are actually overwhelming considering that each of these cameras records a huge amount of data. The UK appears to have a large amount of CCTV monitoring, but the trend of increasing the number of cameras and surveillance in public spaces and transportation can be observed all over the world (and in the European Union). Every major station in Germany will be equipped with modern video technology by the end of 2024, now Deutsche Bahn operates a total of almost 50,000 video cameras on trains and in stations. Therefore, it is not surprising that the collection of such a large amount of information is subject to many requirements - with GDPR at the top.

III. GDPR Compliance in Visual Monitoring: Right to Access and Privacy Protection

As railways and train stations use visual monitoring to strengthen security, it becomes necessary to navigate the complex landscape of data protection regulations, with the GDPR (UK GDPR for the UK) at the front line.

In GDPR “personal data” means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (data subject). Further we can learn that an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person. The definition is open-ended and if a recording or photo of a person captured by video surveillance can be used to identify that person (directly or indirectly) it is considered personal data. Therefore, if you process such data (personal data), i.e. store, record, use, disclose and more - you are subject to the GDPR and must comply with its requirements.

If personal data is involved, the GDPR grants certain rights to those whose data is processed. One of them is right of access by the data subject - data subject should have the right of access to personal data which have been collected concerning him or her, and to exercise that right easily and at reasonable intervals, in order to be aware of, and verify, the lawfulness of the processing. The right of access gives individuals the right to obtain a copy of their personal data, as well as other supplementary information, as long as it does not affect the rights of others. You may find more detailed information about access right on our website.

There are 6 legal bases which are the foundation of data processing (without fulfilment of at least one of them the processing of personal data is not allowed). When it comes to video recordings, this video surveillance can operate on various grounds (improving security, protecting property, providing operational support, etc.), a problem begins, however, when it is necessary to provide access or disclose recordings that include images of other, unrelated people. This is because there may be a situation in which a person (data subject) or legal entity requests access to the recordings and is entitled to do so. Personal data (image) of a person may be disclosed if there is substantial necessity behind it (e.g. the person has committed a crime, or it results from other, legitimate interests). It rarely happens, however, that on the recording there is only the concerned person, if there are other people then it is necessary to ensure their privacy. In this case you would need the data subject's consent to share his or her image, but consent under the GDPR has many conditions. Consent should be given by a clear affirmative act establishing a freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject’s agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her, such as by a written statement, including by electronic means, or an oral statement. It is therefore impossible to effectively collect consent from people who have been recorded by cameras in case the recording needs to be made available to third parties. It is important to remember that consent is the weakest lawful basis for processing because it can be withdrawn at any time.

Obtaining the data subject's consent is consequently not always an option, for instance, when the CCTV cameras installed on the street by authorities to help identify criminals and prevent crimes include images of many people. Such situations have already been the subject of many court cases and have their origins in a time when privacy rights were not well established in legal systems (Peck v. the United Kingdom, 2003). Then in the judgement of the European Court of human rights it was stated that where individuals included in CCTV footage refuse to consent to the dissemination of their images, entity responsible for monitoring should consider other solutions, such as masking the images before disclosure. An image of individuals is also their personal information, in the referred case it was possible to recognize the person who was recorded through his "distinctive hairstyle and moustache making him easily recognisable to anyone who knew him". Therefore, if you use a surveillance system, you need to have the right tools to manage it.

IV. Ensuring Anonymity and Securing Recorded Footage: Face Blurring and Video Anonymization

To protect the privacy of people monitored by visual surveillance systems, transportation companies should explore new mechanisms such as the use of facial blurring and video anonymization. This is also due to the Privacy by Design concept contained in the GDPR indicating that data protection in data processing procedures is best adhered to when it is already integrated in the technology when created. This implies that if you decide to use surveillance cameras, you should think about privacy at the very beginning and implement appropriate mechanisms when setting up the system. Such mechanisms include determining the number of cameras, location, method of operation and monitoring, information about the monitoring, but also the rules on who has access to them and on what basis, and to whom the recordings can be disclosed. When it comes to disclosure, you need to consider how to disclose the recording in practice without infringing the privacy of other individuals. Technology tools to comply with GDPR standards, such as face blurring and video anonymization, will be invaluable.

Face Blurring

Effective facial blurring involves using advanced algorithms to detect and hide facial features in monitoring footage. The goal is to make individuals unrecognizable while enabling analysis of incidents and behaviours. The blurring process should be accurate and consistent, ensuring that all identifiable faces are obscured throughout the footage.

Video Anonymization

Video anonymization goes beyond just facial blurring to include a varied range of techniques to comprehensively protect a person's privacy. Object tracking and blurring serve as key elements, enabling dynamic anonymization of various elements in the video footage. This approach ensures that not only the face is hidden, but also other identifiable features, such as license plates or distinctive clothing. The methodology involves mapping and tracking objects or people in motion in the field of observation. Algorithms then come into play, applying anonymization measures such as pixelization or replacement to hide these elements. By anonymizing video recordings companies not only comply with GDPR (and UK GDPR) but also mitigate the risk of unauthorized access and misuse of personal data.

Use of customised technology

The use of advanced facial blurring and video anonymization is critical to keep passengers trust and compliance with data protection rules. While ensuring privacy may seem complicated, there are simple ways to ensure compliance and maintain the effectiveness of monitoring systems.

Facial blurring and video anonymization are key elements in protecting the privacy of individuals which can be applied in railways and train stations. While ensuring privacy may seem complicated, there are certainly ways to ensure compliance along with effective monitoring.

Anonymization measures enable you to comply with GDPR in an easy way.

V. Responding to Incidents: Providing Video on Demand and Sharing Recordings while Maintaining GDPR Compliance

In the event of an incident or investigation, companies involved in or responsible for monitoring may be required to provide video footage to law enforcement agencies or other authorized parties but also to natural persons. The key is to ensure that such record disclosure complies with the requirements of the GDPR.

Access right

Companies should establish a process on how to respond to requests, ensuring that the sharing of recordings is limited to what is necessary and proportionate to the purpose. Access to surveillance footage can be requested based on Article 15 of the GDPR - right of access by data subject. Entities which use surveillance systems must be prepared to facilitate such requests quickly and transparently. Article 15 of the GDPR guarantees the right of access to the processed information to all concerned persons. It means that not only authorised offices, government bodies, and law enforcement agencies such as the police can request photos or recordings. Anyone who has been captured on photo or video can request a copy of the material where they have been captured, subject to certain conditions - failure to comply with such obligations may result in severe fines (and an obligation to implement GDPR - compliant practices of course).

Article 15 grants individuals the right to obtain from the controller confirmation as to whether or not personal data concerning them is being processed as well as, the right to access that data/receive a copy if it is. In the context of transportation monitoring, this includes sharing recordings in which individuals may be identified. Access requests should be processed promptly (in one month), and the video provided should be redacted to exclude any information unrelated to the requester – this means that such a recording cannot violate the privacy rights of others. To achieve it may be necessary to use advanced anonymization techniques, such as face blurring and video anonymization - which are all essential to protect the identities of unrelated individuals.

VI. Conclusion:

As railroads and train stations are committed to implement visual monitoring technologies to enhance security, the need for a detailed understanding of legal and ethical issues becomes not only a necessity, but a responsible behaviour when adopting new solutions.

Taking new measures to ensure security involves respecting passengers' right to privacy. Balancing technological innovation and legal responsibility in the modern era, rail operators and other entities interested in monitoring of train stations and railways should implement systems that allow disclosure of recordings in such a way that the recordings still serve a purpose, but do not infringe on the rights of other individuals.

The appropriate preparation of the recordings requires precise and specialized software enabling both face blurring and data anonymization.

Gallio provides you with a unique solution for privacy protection based on artificial intelligence. Algorithms blur faces making them virtually impossible to recognize while leaving image quality intact. Our professional tools meet the needs of transportation companies or those engaged in monitoring, allowing them to use an effective solution to ensure compliance with GDPR and best practices.

The free, demo version of is available for download HERE.