The use of surveillance cameras began as a way for business and government entities to maintain a consistent ability to monitor workplaces, warehouses and sensitive security areas. Advances in camera technology, including analogue and digital recording devices, increased the use of surveillance cameras in many other areas of everyday life. In the process, surveillance cameras have raised legal issues concerning the right to go about daily life functions without being watched, especially when the abuse of surveillance cameras leads to an invasion of privacy.
A Right to Know
Public venues that use surveillance cameras generally post signs that inform people that they are being watched and recorded. This is considered a fair-minded approach to informing the public that any activity that is illegal or otherwise not allowed will be captured on a recording. This practice of giving notice of such use of surveillance cameras is followed voluntarily by most public and private security entities, and in many countries is mandated by law. Canada is one nation that has passed such legislation, which is part of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
Proprietor's Duty to Protect
One of the legal issues regarding surveillance cameras concerns the duty of a business owner to provide an adequate level of security to his customers and clients. Property management companies that oversee residential complexes are expected to ensure the safety of their tenants against illegal activity and personal injury. Regardless of any tenant's personal opinion about her right to privacy, surveillance cameras are seen by most people as a necessary and reasonable method of ensuring the security of all tenants of the property.
Surveillance in Schools
Perhaps one of the most controversial legal issues has been the use of surveillance cameras in schools. This use of security cameras was a result of an increased level of illegal and sometimes violent activities that has affected many schools, especially in larger cities. A case in Tennessee involving a middle school installing surveillance cameras in locker rooms raised legal issues when the stored tapes were made accessible on the Internet. The state Supreme Court ruled that this use of surveillance cameras inherently violated students' right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Silent Video Surveillance
Title I of 18 U.S. Code Section 2510 of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 states that video surveillance cameras are allowed to be used for watching and recording citizens without their knowledge or consent as long as no sound is recorded. Although proponents of the Fourth Amendment have contended that this violates the right to privacy, the code has been used by many government entities in this capacity without legal redress. This function is widely applied as of 2010 for watching and taping public highways and streets.
Protecting Potentially Dangerous Venues
Surveillance cameras are used to prevent access to certain especially important areas that present a potential danger to the public. Hospitals and scientific laboratories often contain chemicals and substances that could be lethal if exposed to the public. In these instances, the use of surveillance is not considered to be an invasion of privacy, due to the understood need to watch workers as they access these sensitive areas.
- Video Surveillance Guide: Invasion of privacy laws and video surveillance -- what's legal, what's not?
- SecurityInfoWatch.com: The Legal Side: Liability for Installed Surveillance Cameras
- Michigan Association of School Boards: Locker room surveillance camera violates students' constitutional privacy rights
- California Research Bureau: Public Video Surveillance: Is It An Effective Crime Prevention Tool?