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Are Video Surveillance Cameras an Invasion of Privacy?

The use of video surveillance cameras is becoming commonplace in businesses both large and small. Almost every night on the evening news you can see video recordings capturing shoplifters, robbers, and even kidnappers. Also, cameras are now used by law enforcement and the news media to conduct "sting operations" to catch unsuspecting con men and other criminals.


As the use of cameras and video recording devices becomes more common, society at large is becoming concerned about privacy issues related to cameras and other security surveillance devices. Many people feel that cameras, especially hidden ones, are a threat to their right of privacy.


Security professionals and facility managers who use cameras and other surveillance devices need to understand the legal implications of installing such devices. In today's litigious environment, people who feel that their privacy was invaded are likely to sue, particularly if your company is a well-established company with "deep pockets". The improper use of surveillance devices may also subject your company and it's managers to prosecution for violation of federal or state laws.


Here are a number of things to consider prior to installing any type of camera or other surveillance device:

  • Camera surveillance and video recording in "public" spaces is usually legal.

  • Camera surveillance and video recording in "private" spaces is usually not legal. A private space is a space where a reasonable person would have an "expectation of privacy". Areas where an "expectation of privacy" exists include restrooms, showers, dressing rooms, lockers rooms, employee lounges, first aid rooms, and other similar spaces.

  • The laws relating to the recording of audio are usually much stricter than the laws relating to the recording of video. Despite the fact that most video recorders allow the recording of audio as well as video, the use of the audio recording feature is illegal in many applications.

  • Some jurisdictions may require that a sign be posted giving notice that the area is under video or audio surveillance.

  • Cameras that observe employee work areas are usually legal, but can create morale problems if employees feel that the cameras are being used to track their productivity and work habits. The coverage and purpose of cameras and other surveillance devices should be clearly communicated to all employees. It is suggested that this topic be included in the company employee handbook.

  • Companies who have employees represented by a union or other trade organization should verify that the installation of cameras or other surveillance devices does not violate the terms of any collective bargaining agreement.

  • Be especially careful with hidden or "covert" camera installations. While it may be tempting to try and catch a thief, an improperly obtained recording is useless as evidence and may subject the company to legal damages costing far more than any theft ever would. The use of covert cameras in theft investigations is not a "do-it-yourself" project and is best left to skilled investigators who are familiar with the applicable laws.


Check the laws concerning audio and video surveillance applicable in your state or province. The proposed use of cameras (particularly covert cameras) in questionable areas should be reviewed by your attorney prior to installation.

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