One question that people only ask a bit too late is about the longevity of security camera footage. Once you need to access footage from a couple of weeks or months ago, you start hoping you’ve set up your camera to keep it, and in most cases, that won’t be the case.
Naturally, security cameras keep footage for some time, after which they delete it to create space for new recordings. In a perfect world, a surveillance camera will record footage forever, but we, unfortunately, don’t live in an ideal world. Storage costs a lot, and recording new videos is more important than keeping older ones.
In this article, you’ll learn how long you should expect a security camera to keep footage by default. You’ll also get answers to common questions about the topic to know if you can recover all those seemingly lost videos from your security camera.
Do Security Cameras Delete Old Footage
All security cameras delete old footage automatically, and there are practical and legal reasons for that. Different cameras keep footage for different timelines depending on the operator’s requirement. That said, one can only ask why security cameras delete old footage.
Here are some reasons why most surveillance devices can’t keep their footage forever.
1. Legal restrictions
Suppose you have any footage that shows a person identifiable. In that case, it counts as their personal information, and you have a legal obligation to destroy it or get their permission to keep it. However, automatically deleting footage from your camera sounds much more practical than asking everyone who appeared in the recording for permission to keep the video.
If you’d rather not face lawsuits upon lawsuits, you want to set your camera to delete footage automatically after a set period. To make the job easier for you, pretty much all security cameras have a feature that does that automatically, so you don’t have to do it yourself.
2. Storage space restrictions
Surveillance cameras need a storage device to keep all the videos, and storage devices always have a cap. It doesn’t matter what you’re recording to; the camera will eventually stop recording for lack of space until you delete all the recorded video clogging the storage space.
Instead of forcing you to do that every couple of months, security cameras will do it automatically after some time. Next to the legal restrictions, the unavailability of unlimited space is another reason security cameras delete old footage.
In most cases, security cameras automatically delete footage for the reasons mentioned earlier. However, there are instances when people automatically delete footage to hide discrete activity, but that doesn’t happen frequently.
Also, the owner of a security surveillance system can generally decide when they want to delete the footage. There are expected timeframes for deletion for most public spaces, and I’ll list some of them below.
Do Security Cameras Record All the Time?
Another related question many people tend to ask is if a security camera records footage all the time. Recording 24/7 sounds like a no-brainer, as that gives you the highest chance of catching everything that happens on camera, but do security surveillance systems work all the time?
The answer depends on what security camera you’re talking about specifically. While surveillance systems at hotels and large malls will likely keep recording all the time, it’s usually not the same for home cameras, most of which only register for a particular but limited period.
Several reasons why it’s not practical for specific security cameras to keep recording all the time. Before jumping into why some security cameras don’t record all the time, you should note that almost all of them work 24/7. So, that little cam is most likely looking right at you.
The primary reason why some cameras don’t record all the time is that they’re only set to work when they detect motion. If no person, vehicle, or animal is moving in the frame, these cameras will keep sleeping, not recording anything to their internal storage.
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Why record tens of hours of a scene that stays empty for the entire time, consuming dozen of gigabytes of storage, when you can cut it down to nothing by only recording when someone comes into the frame?
However, when you consider that shopping malls, hotel lobbies, and similar places always have an inflow of traffic, you’ll understand why their security cameras work 100% of the time. If you’re tired of spending a lot of storage space for security footage, you can get something that only records when it detects motion.
Can You Ask for Security Footage?
This entire article is about how long security cameras keep footage, but that information is pretty useless if you don’t get an answer to this question. The only reason why most people ask about how long security cameras keep video recordings is that they need to ask for some footage. So, the timeline for the deletion of CCTV footage is useless if you can’t ask for the footage itself.
You can technically ask for security footage anywhere, but you can’t force the operator to let you access it. The nitty gritty is a bit more complicated than that, but I’ll try to explain in detail.
In most countries, a business is not compelled to let you see or access their security footage, even if it recorded you in the clip you’re requesting to see. However, in some jurisdictions like the EU and the UK, you have the right to see what a surveillance system records of you, and you can even force the operator to remove it.
In practice, you shouldn’t always expect to see security footage you feature in, even if you’re in the EU or UK. A researcher once tried it, and the results weren’t very encouraging, as most of the operators he interacted with responded coldly to avoid acceding to his request.
However, there’s a surefire way to get a security camera recording from a business if you’re sure the camera was running when you were there. If you can get a court order mandating them to provide it, you’ll almost certainly get it; but you must be in something serious to get a court order in the first place!
Can I Get CCTV Footage from 5 Months Ago?
This article has said a lot about CCTV cameras and how long they keep their footage, but there are still so many unanswered questions, and this section will answer one of them. Since corporate bodies keep their CCTV footage for a bit longer than regular people, can you get footage from five months ago?
The answer to this question depends on a couple of factors. Firstly, can you get the CCTV footage at all? When someone asks this question, it’s safe to assume they don’t own the camera and intend to request it from the owner. If that happens to be the case, there’s no assurance that the operator will be willing to let go of the footage.
Let’s assume you’re in the EU or UK, where the laws mandate them to give you the footage. Do they keep it for that long? Five months is a long time in CCTV footage storage terms, and there’s a big chance it’s already been deleted. Even if the business has enough resources to keep the footage for that long, a government policy will probably prevent them from doing that.
In short, you can always get CCTV footage from five months ago if it’s available and has the rights to it. However, the chances of those two scenarios happening simultaneously are close to zero, so you cannot realistically get CCTV footage from five months ago.
How Long Do Most Companies Keep Security Footage?
Suppose you’re hoping to get security footage from a company outside the European Union. In that case, you’ll need to worry about more than how long the companies keep their security footage. However, if that happens to be what you’re most worried about, there’s an answer for you.
You shouldn’t expect a company to keep its security footage for more than 90 days, even in the best-case scenario. Most smaller companies will automatically delete security footage after a month to free space, while some will only keep it for a couple of weeks.
If you’re trying to get an aged clip caught on a security camera from a business, you want to be sure they still have it on their records. One way to do that is by walking up to them and asking. However, an easier way is to read this article to see how long most security cameras keep their footage.