Laws on surveillance cameras

Updated March 23, 2017

With the ubiquitousness of red-light cameras, ATM cameras, hidden cameras and store surveillance cameras, it is likely that whenever you leave their home, you are being recorded. Though constant surveillance evokes a "1984"-like landscape, only a few states have laws protecting people from unauthorised monitoring. Even then, the assumption is usually that the moment you step outside, you consent to being taped.

General Law

Thirteen states have laws limiting the use of hidden surveillance cameras. These generally restrict the use of cameras in private places, such as bathrooms, locker rooms and hotel rooms. Even states without laws about hidden cameras respect that when individuals have an expectation of privacy, video surveillance is inappropriate. In public places, however, it is perfectly legal to monitor and record activity, even with hidden cameras.


Many people believe consent is required before they can be monitored by a surveillance camera. This belief is reinforced by signs that notify people that they are being recorded. Some mistakenly believe that these signs are required. In actuality, while giving consent would permit surveillance of private areas or the recording of sound, silent video recording of public areas does not require consent or notification.


Large employers with unionised employees are usually required under federal labour laws to negotiate with the union prior to installing hidden cameras. Smaller employers, however, do not have this requirement. In fact, an employment contract may include a provision requiring that employees consent to video monitoring, even in private places like the bathroom. Because consent has been given, your employer would be free to install hidden surveillance cameras to observe employees.To be violating the law, an employer would need to act in a way that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. Monitoring employees, even those with an expectation of privacy, would not rise to this level if consent was obtained beforehand.


The police are a bit more limited in their surveillance capabilities due to the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment. However, video surveillance in public areas is still permissible. This is why red-light and security cameras installed at major intersections are legal; people have no expectation of privacy when travelling on a public street.

However, while private entities can obtain consent for recording sound, it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment for the police to install a surveillance camera with sound-recording capabilities without a warrant and probable cause. It is for this reason that a recording device in a phone booth, for instance, is impermissible.

Mandatory Cameras

Some states, such as New York, have laws that make video surveillance mandatory in certain cases. The New York law requires that "certain cabarets and public dance halls install video surveillance cameras at all entrances and exits." The footage must be retained and provided upon request to police in the event of a criminal investigation.


The 13 states with laws limiting the use hidden camera laws are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Utah.

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About the Author

Brian Richards is an attorney whose work has appeared in law and philosophy journals and online in legal blogs and article repositories. He has been a writer since 2008. He holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from University of California, San Diego and a Juris Doctor from Lewis and Clark School of Law.