Ethical Issues With Public Surveillance Cameras

Written by william mccoy
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Ethical Issues With Public Surveillance Cameras
Some security cameras are visible, while others are completely hidden. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Public surveillance cameras are an effective tool in a variety of applications. Cameras mounted in urban areas allow police to monitor criminal activity while cameras hidden in stores help protect vendors against shoplifting. Though some people may not appreciate being filmed without their knowledge, they have no legal recourse when filmed in a public area.

City Streets

Police forces and businesses use cameras aimed at city streets as a way of recording and deterring criminal activity. These cameras are often located in areas in which crime is common. If someone is in public, he does not have an expectation of privacy, so he may not have an issue with being filmed. However, police and businesses should consider the ethics of privacy when placing these cameras. For example, a camera shouldn't be aimed so that it records through a residence's window.

Retail Stores

Many retailers use both hidden and noticeable security cameras. The hidden cameras are used to capture any crimes such as shoplifting, while the noticeable cameras may serve as a deterrent to would-be thieves. Retailers should refrain from placing cameras in areas in which customers undress, such as a fitting room or washroom. If a customer believes she was spied on while getting changed, she may seek legal action against the store.


Hidden cameras spark considerable ethical debate when used in the media. Many news programs use hidden cameras to conduct surveillance or speak with people who don't realise they're on camera. As one of the ethical requirements of every journalist is to identify himself prior to speaking to someone on the record, this deceitful recording is often frowned upon by those in the industry, though it is legal.


Hidden security cameras are common in homes in which a family has young children. Often called "nanny cams," these cameras are set up to watch nannies or babysitters and are used to detect abuse or neglect of the child at the hands of the caregiver. Even if you don't tell your nanny that you are filming her, you have to give her a right to privacy. For example, if you have a live-in nanny, it is unethical to place a hidden camera in her room or washroom.

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