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The Case of Video Surveillance Balloons in Chile

Closed Mixed Outcome

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Audio / Visual Broadcasting
  • Date of Decision
    June 1, 2016
  • Outcome
    Reversed Lower Court
  • Case Number
    N° 35.389-2016
  • Region & Country
    Chile, Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Surveillance
  • Tags
    Videos, Privacy, Intimacy

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Supreme Court of Chile found that the use of video surveillance balloons over two municipalities to be compatible with the constitution, and allowed their continued use, provided they do not record private spaces without authorization. A group of citizens brought a writ of constitutional protection against the municipalities of Los Condes and Lo Barneche in Chile in response to the use of aerostatic balloons for video surveillance purposes. The citizens claimed their rights to privacy and intimacy had been violated. The Supreme Court of Chile determined that video surveillance is an appropriate measure for the protection of public security, but the video surveillance balloons should not record on private residences and locations.


Facts

A group of residents from the municipalities of Los Condes and Lo Barnechea in Chile instituted a writ of constitutional protection (amparo) because those municipalities had used aerostatic balloons to conduct video surveillance. The balloons were justified for the purpose of monitoring crime and traffic patterns. However, “ the balloons were equipped with military-grade technology including a 360-degree camera with recording capability, and nocturnal vision that could monitor citizens below 24 hours a day, and even identify the face of a moving person walking on the streets up to a mile away.” 

The residents argued that the video surveillance system utilized sophisticated technology that could capture private activity in their homes. Also, the residents argued that the balloons would be unable to distinguish between recording public places and those of a private nature, thus negatively affecting their fundamental rights to privacy and intimacy.

The Santiago Court of Appeals granted the writ of protection. However, the municipalities appealed to the Supreme Court where the decision was partially overruled.


Decision Overview

Judge María Sandoval delivered the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Chile (Court).

The main issue before the Court was whether video surveillance balloons affected the residents’ constitutional rights to privacy and intimacy. The Court determined that municipalities possess the authority to use video surveillance balloons in order to guarantee public safety.

The Court reasoned that recording and capturing images in public spaces is a growing phenomenon reflecting new advances in protecting public security. According to the Court, video surveillance must be viewed as a means of preventing and prosecuting criminal activity. It can lessen the chances of a crime being perpetrated. It can also quickly alert the Police, and it can be used as evidence in criminal proceedings.

The Court, however, determined that video surveillance could only be used in public places and not on private locations, as it can constitute an interference with the right to privacy and the right to intimacy. The court furthered that the surveillance of private locations would be illegitimate unless a judge had authorized it. The court recognized that video surveillance must be utilized without affecting the rights to privacy, the sanctity of a private residence, and confidential communication.

Nevertheless, the Court asserted that video surveillance has been recognized as an instrument that can help guarantee the legitimate aim of protecting public safety. Also, the Court reasoned that municipalities can establish video surveillance systems to pursue this legitimate aim without affecting the rights to privacy and intimacy. According to the Court, there is no expectancy of privacy in public places. Furthermore, public safety is a necessity and video surveillance is an appropriate measure to meet this need.

The Court, however, ordered for the following limitations on the use of surveillance balloons: 1) the video surveillance balloons can only record in public places, but it can also record a private open place when it is tracking the possible commission of a crime; 2) an inspector must certify, at least once a month, that the surveillance balloons have not recorded any activity in private residences or locations; 3) after 30 days, footage must be deleted unless there are recordings that show criminal activity (in those cases the municipalities have to establish a proper procedure) and; 4) every citizen has a right to access the information recorded by the balloons after submitting a proper application.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Mixed Outcome

The Court’s judgment on Chile’s first public interest digital privacy case has a mixed outcome. Although the judgment goes some way to protect individuals from being placed under surveillance when they are in private locations,  the judgment still upholds a system of surveillance which could still have a chilling effect on public assembly and expression.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

  • ACHR, art. 11

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the Chilean judicial system.

Official Case Documents

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