Church of England court orders turning off CCTV during services

The Church of England wants CCTV security cameras turned off during services, as it says the act of praying is a private matter that should not be recorded on video.

(REUTERS/Joshua Lott)Security cameras in churches should not record people in prayer, according to the Church of England's court.

The ruling, which is a first when it comes to the ethics of CCTV in churches, followed a request from a Canterbury vicar who wanted CCTV installations at the St. Mary's Church in Kent.

Reverend Philip Brown had applied for two camera installations to deter vandals in the area, as well as catch the perpetrators. He also wanted the cameras to freely film all activities since St. Mary's Church was traditionally open to the public, as most sites of the Church of England are. The request, however, raised more questions about privacy than security.

Commissary general Morag Ellis cited that cameras must be turned off during Sunday masses and if there are events like weddings, baptism and funerals. The provision also keeps cameras from being placed in secluded areas where people pray, such as when a devotee wants to undergo the sacrament of Confession.

Ellis also noted that the recorded footage from the CCTV must be retained for a maximum of four weeks only and that a suitable individual must be tasked to oversee these recordings and the operation of the CCTV cameras in general. The Church of England must still abide by government laws when it comes to CCTV use, in that a person's privacy should still be respected and observed at all times.

In 2016, the government approved a funding scheme to help churches, mosques and other places of worship or religious sites install CCTV cameras to prevent hate crimes. The evangelical group Affinity, however, supported the Church of England court's decision to turn off these cameras during prayers and religious events.

"There may be good reasons for having cameras installed in a church building but observing and recording private prayer times is not one of them," Graham Nicholls of Affinity stated. "It is intrusive and serves no useful purpose."