Surveillance Camera Laws for Business and Property Owners
Public places are not considered locations where we typically have a right to privacy. This means that a retail store or a supermarket is allowed to install outside cameras pointing toward the street.
Video cameras are a crucial component of your security system. This is true whether you run a business or own residential properties.
They can offer you protection against episodes like theft, vandalism, or violence in two major ways. First, installing video surveillance cameras can be an effective deterrent against thieves, vandals, and other malicious individuals. That’s because criminals usually avoid engaging in illicit behavior when they know they are being recorded. Second, by collecting footage that can be used as evidence in case a crime happens on your premises.
However, the use of security cameras raises numerous privacy concerns. For this reason, businesses and residential property owners should take proactive steps to comply with federal or state rules limiting their use.
Let’s dig deeper into what the law says regarding using surveillance cameras.
What do federal laws say?
There are two main groups of federal laws that business and property owners should consider before installing security cameras on their premises.
The first set of laws is known as expectation of privacy laws. They state that places that one assumes to be private should be off-limits when it comes to video security. Such places include bathrooms, locker rooms, and bedrooms. Following these laws is crucial when these areas are used by people other than you, especially when you are running a business (e.g., a gym or hotel) or when you are renting your residential property. Not complying with these regulations can have serious legal repercussions.
The second group of laws is known as one-party consent laws. Based on these laws, recordings of in-person conversations (as well as phone calls) can happen when at least one of the two parties agrees. Complying with these laws is very important when using audio-equipped cameras placed in areas where people regularly tend to converse with each other, like in a company’s meeting room or a house’s living room.
What do state laws say?
While the expectation of privacy laws and one-party consent laws apply to all US states, there are 15 states with specific regulations on this matter.
For example, in Florida, Kansas, Alabama, South Dakota, and Maine, you are not allowed to install cameras in private places. Similar regulations exist in New Hampshire and Minnesota.
Some states don’t allow hidden cameras. The list includes Alabama, California, Georgia, and Hawaii.
In Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah, video recording can happen only if you have obtained the explicit consent of the recorded parties.
What should employers make of these federal and state laws?
First of all, it’s important for businesses and other organizations to take proactive actions aimed at ensuring that areas without security cameras are still well-protected. For example, a gym owner may worry that items customers store in the locker room are exposed to a higher risk of theft due to the absence of video security cameras. The solution to this problem may be installing fail safe doors to make lockers harder to open or hiring extra security personnel to patrol the locker room area.
In states where consent is necessary to add hidden cameras, employers must ensure that all individuals in the recording area are informed about the camera’s presence and agree to be recorded. When adding hidden cameras in your organization’s offices, it’s usually wise to mention this in the work contract you sign with your employees.
It’s also a good practice to advertise the presence of video security cameras in commercial buildings that customers regularly visit, such as stores and restaurants. Adding posting signs about the camera presence can also help create a sense of safety for your customers.
Are there federal laws regarding the use of video cameras in the workplace?
At the moment, federal laws don’t contain any general provisions on the use of video cameras in offices and other workplaces.
However, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) contains an important passage regarding the use of video cameras. It states that businesses are not allowed to record their workers when they are engaging in protected activities. Examples are recording or taking pictures of their workers when they engage in union activities or when they participate in rallies, protests, and marches.
Are there specific laws for cameras in outdoor areas?
When it comes to the use of video cameras in outdoor areas, laws are typically much less strict.
Public places are not considered locations where we typically have a right to privacy. This means that a retail store or a supermarket is allowed to install outside cameras pointing toward the street. The same goes for video cameras installed outside our home and pointing towards the street.
However, things change when pointing your camera toward private areas. In this case, privacy concerns may arise. Therefore, when installing video cameras outside of your business or residential property, make sure they won’t point toward a private room’s window or a neighbor’s garden.