Security Camera Rules

Written by chris haughey
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Security Camera Rules
Several states outlaw the use of hidden security cameras. (Riou/Pixland/Getty Images)

Security cameras may deter people from breaking the law, but their presence in public areas or in the workplace may not be entirely legal, especially if they are hidden. The widespread use of security cameras is something accepted as normal in modern society, but there are certain boundaries which must not be overstepped. Knowing what can be done and where cameras should not be is something anybody using security surveillance cameras should familiarise herself with in order to keep herself out of trouble with the law.

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Video Surveillance

Generally speaking, it is not illegal for video recording to be used in public buildings or the workplace as a means of security, even without consent from the people who are being recorded. There is the issue of the surveillance being perceived as an invasion of privacy, and as a result there are laws that prohibit the use of video surveillance in specific areas, namely those of expected privacy such as a rest room or changing room.

Audio Recording

Audio recording is a somewhat murky area as the laws regarding audio recording by surveillance equipment vary depending on the state or county. Local jurisdiction may enforce stricter rules than the state laws or even federal ones as one jurisdiction can differ greatly from another. In general, using surveillance equipment such as CCTV to record conversations is viewed in the same way as wiretapping and eavesdropping and is therefore illegal. According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a general rule of thumb, regardless of the state, is that "it is almost always illegal to record a conversation to which you are not a party, do not have consent to tape, and could not naturally overhear."

Hidden Cameras

Everybody has the basic right to privacy and expects to have a high level of personal privacy in a private place such as a bathroom or changing room. There are 13 states in the USA that prohibit the installation or use of any cameras in such private places. In Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Utah, it is against the law to install or use any device for photographing, observing or overhearing events or sounds in a private place without having the permission of the people that are being photographed or observed. These states also prohibit trespassing on private property to conduct surveillance of people there.

Unauthorised Installation

24 states have specific laws regarding audio recording and most states have a law that requires the proprietors of a business or workplace have signs displayed to notify people that there is surveillance equipment or security cameras in operation. In the 13 states named above, breaking their laws and installing a hidden camera to record video or audio surveillance is illegal and carries a penalty like any other crime. In most of the states it is a felony, and perpetrators could face a fine of up to £1,300 and a sentence of two years imprisonment.

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