Korean Law Demystified!

CCTV Law in Korea


Q: Hi! I own a kebab restaurant in Seoul. I plan to install several CCTV (surveillance) cameras in my restaurant. What do I need to know?

A: Hi. Maybe I can help. Please remember the following:

1. The Korean law pertaining to CCTV cameras (aka surveillance cameras) is the Personal Information Protection Act (개인정보보호법). But, this law only covers CCTV cameras filming/recording places open to the public. For instance, there is currently no applicable law with regard to CCTV cameras operating inside one’s home (i.e., a private place). Therefore, if you install a CCTV camera in your restaurant, you must comply with the requirements set forth in the aforementioned Act.

2. You may install and operate a CCTV camera for such purposes as: 1) crime prevention, 2) fire prevention, 3) general safety of the premises/facilities, or 4) collecting road traffic info. But, you may not operate a CCTV camera even in public places such as: 1) inside bath houses, 2) inside restrooms, 3) inside fitting/dressing rooms, or 4) inside jjimjilbangs (sweating sheds).

3. Some of the important obligations set forth in the Personal Information Protection Act include: 1) Restricting access to CCTV operation and CCTV footage, 2) Making sure such data is saved/transmitted without error, 3) Keeping a record of operation, 4) Taking measure to prevent tampering, and 5) Drafting and enforcing internal bylaws/regulations with regard to CCTV operation. The last requirement is exempted for businesses/organizations with fewer than 5 full-time employees. But, remember that even if you contract out your entire CCTV operations to an outside security company, you (as the owner) will still be personally responsible for abiding by the law. In case of violation, you could face vicarious liability. Personally make sure everything is legit.

4. Before you start filming/recording, you must let the public know you are filming/recording them (e.g., put up a warning sign/notice). Such a notice should easily be spotted by anyone present in the area (preferably in every entrance). In case of operating multiple cameras, you do not need to put up separate signs/notices for each one. You do, however, need to let people know exactly what areas are being filmed/recorded.

5. CCTV cameras may not record dialogues. CCTV footage cannot contain sound. FYI, recording, without authorization, dialogue between other people is a crime in Korea. It is legal, however, to record dialogue to which the recorder him/herself is a party. For instance, you may record a phone conversation you are having with another person.

6. If your purpose is to monitor your employees, you need to obtain everyone’s consent beforehand. Otherwise, it’s illegal. Even if you’ve received everyone’s consent, you still need to abide by the requirements set forth in the Personal Information Protection Act if the cameras are monitoring places open to the public. For instance, if you are filming/recording inside your restaurant (where customers are present) to monitor your employees. I recently read the University of Seoul (서울시립대) got into trouble for surreptitious changing the angle of their school CCTV cameras to monitor employees who were on strike.

7. Let’s say a crime has been committed in your restaurant (and it was caught on camera). And, the “victim” wants access to your CCTV footage. In such case, you cannot just hand over (or allow access to) your CCTV footage at (merely) the victim’s request. CCTV footage may be handed over (to the police) when requested by the police (directly) through: 1) (your) consent or 2) a warrant. A “victim” (i.e., 3rd party) may be allowed to access CCTV footage only under exigent circumstances. For instance, when other people appearing in the footage cannot be located (i.e., consent cannot be obtained), or allowing access is necessary to protect the victim’s vital interest from imminent threat.

I hope this helps.

Note: I made up the question, and I answered too.

My Thoughts on CCTV Cameras

I am generally in favor of ubiquitous usage of CCTV cameras in public places. I still believe in privacy. But, I feel privacy concerns (esp. in public places) is substantially outweighed by the camera’s utility in solving crimes and proving things. A witness is not always present, and unless you’re Judge Judy, it’s often hard to tell what really went down. Above was a 2013 news report (in English) about Korea’s new, hi-tech CCTV cameras.

Caught on Camera

1. CCTV Cameras on Buses

In Korea, almost all buses have CCTV cameras inside. According to the Act on the Aggravated Punishment, Etc. of Specific Crimes (특정범죄가중처벌등에관한법률), the punishment for using violence/threats against the bus driver (who is driving) is imprisonment for not more than 5 years or a maximum criminal fine of KRW 20,000,000.

2. CCTV Cameras in Medical Facilities

Most medical facilities also have CCTV cameras. In the above video, a dentist and his (irate) patient get into a fight. The dentist first taunts her to hit him, at which point she does (twice). The dentist loses his temper to retaliate (all-out).

There is currently no harsher punishment outlined for such instances (There has been much talk of enacting such a law). I mean, for patients attacking medical professionals in medical facilities. The Criminal Act (형법), as the general law, applies.

There is, however, harsher punishment outlined for people using violence/threats in the ER. According to the Emergency Medical Service Act (응급의료에관한법률), the punishment for using violence (also threats, etc.) against medical professionals in the ER is imprisonment for not more than 5 years or a maximum criminal fine of KRW 30,000,000.


1. As of 2013, there are over 4 million CCTV cameras in Korea. (The UK is known to have around 5 million.) Out of the 4 million, around 10% are said be publicly-run, and 90% privately-run.

2. In the U.S., NASA technology was used to digitally enhance blurry CCTV footage (for the first time). It was technology that had been used to investigate the Challenger disaster in 1986. In 1989, the technology helped catch a murderer in Pennsylvania (Forensic Files episode “Cats, Flies & Snapshot”).

3. In 2011, the Constitutional Court of Korea rendered a decision which found as constitutional: “24/7 prison surveillance cameras” monitoring inmates in solitary confinement (2010Heonma413). At the time, a 24/7 surveillance camera was placed to monitor a suicidal inmate (defendant) who portrayed symptoms of severe depression. He had just been sentenced to 13 years in prison (on appeal).


Thanks for reading!

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