Germans will be able to use dashcam footage as evidence in some road accident cases following a federal supreme court ruling on Tuesday, even though it violates strict privacy rules.
A German court sparked a debate in 2016 about privacy and surveillance when it decided to accept footage from a dashboard mounted camera as the sole evidence to convict a driver who ran a red light.
Surveillance is a sensitive issue because of extensive snooping by the Stasi secret police in Communist East Germany and by the Gestapo in the Nazi era, and the Federal Court of Justice decision overturned a ruling by a lower court.
This had told a plaintiff seeking damages for a car crash that he could not use footage from his dashboard-mounted camera to prove who had caused the accident.
German law forbids continuous filming in public places, which means that drivers are not allowed to leave their dashcams running for hours at a time.
“But continuous, unprompted recording of what is happening on and along the road is not necessary for a plaintiff to secure evidence,” the Federal Court of Justice said in a statement.
“It is technically possible to create a short recording of an accident itself, for instance by continuously overwriting what is being recorded but only saving it permanently when an accident happens,” it added.
It also said that courts should be allowed to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow dashcam footage as evidence by weighing a plaintiff’s right to bring claims before a civil court against a defendant’s right to privacy.
They should also take into account that there is often very little evidence available in road accidents, and that the people caught on camera were in a public place.
The federal supreme court ruling means the lower court will now have to deliver a new verdict.
Germany’s insurance trade body GDV, which is in favor of using dashcam footage to quickly settle questions of liability, said the court’s ruling failed to set out clear guidelines.
“On the one hand, such cameras are not forbidden and their footage can be used in civil proceedings. On the other hand the court says that you’re breaking privacy laws if you record people and license plates while driving,” GDV manager Bernhard Gause said in a statement.
(Reporting by Maria Sheahan Editing by Alexander Smith)