Video surveillance is often necessary to protect your business, but there are state laws you need to know about.
- Video surveillance can be an effective way to protect your company and employees.
- In general, video surveillance is allowed as long as recording takes place where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
- Sixteen states have specific video surveillance laws, though there are legal nuances within each state.
- This article is for business owners who want to check the legality of conducting video surveillance on their company's premises.
As a business owner, you want to be sure to take careful security measures to protect your company and employees. This can include installing a state-of-the-art video surveillance system so you can monitor your business and have any video evidence, if it's ever needed. However, there are video surveillance laws that protect the rights and privacy of those you are filming.
Each state has different video surveillance laws; therefore, it's important to understand the laws you'll need to abide by. These laws pertain to video surveillance methods that do not record audio. Audio conversations are protected under a separate set of federal and state laws, and typically require the consent of at least one of the people involved.
General video surveillance laws
The best general video surveillance practices allow for monitoring in areas where there's no "reasonable expectation of privacy." This is a person's legal right to privacy and the expectation that the public is not privy to their personal conversations or information. The expectation of privacy is not absolute and could change case-by-case.
Physical areas where one doesn't have a reasonable expectation of privacy could include a general work area, such as an office or floor space in a retail store. Typically, any time a person is in public, there is not a reasonable expectation of privacy.
There are certain public places, though, where there is a reasonable expectation for privacy. Any location where you're changing your clothes or staying for a period of time, such as a hotel room, fall into these categories. Other examples of private areas where you should not record include but are not limited to:
- Shower areas
- Locker rooms
- Changing rooms
- Private residences
It is illegal to record a person, with or without their consent, in these private areas in any state. If you operate a business where one of these private areas connects to a public space, you want to ensure that the cameras cannot surveil these private areas. For example, if you run a retail store, it's reasonable to record the showroom floor. However, the cameras cannot record the dressing rooms.
Key takeaway: In general, you are allowed to install video surveillance systems in your business so long as you do not violate an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy.
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Video surveillance laws by state
Each state has its own video surveillance laws. Out of the 50 states and Washington D.C., only 16 have specific laws surrounding the use of video surveillance.
The other 34 states have specified that it is illegal to film in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, as mentioned above.
Here are the guidelines for the other 16 states:
New Hampshire, Maine, Kansas, South Dakota and Delaware
In these five states, businesses must obtain consent to use hidden camera surveillance of any kind. This means that all surveillance cameras must be clearly visible.
Tennessee, Michigan and Utah
In these states, businesses do not need permission to install video surveillance in public places. However, they do need consent when hiding video cameras in places that are considered private. These "private areas" are specific to each of the three states.
Florida, Alabama and Minnesota
In Florida, Alabama and Minnesota, hidden video surveillance is illegal in private locations.
Businesses can legally install cameras provided they have the consent of those who are being watched.
It is illegal for anyone to make a video recording of any communication that could be considered confidential. This means any information that is passed from one party to another should only be intended for the person who is being addressed in the communication.
The state of Arkansas allows you to legally record individuals in private places with their consent.
Georgia allows video surveillance cameras in public and private places, but only when they are clearly visible. If the cameras cannot be easily seen by the public, there needs to be a visible written notice that surveillance is in progress.
In addition to the expectation of privacy, there are additional issues, such as data security, that businesses should be aware of. Be sure to research all of your state's laws to ensure you're complying with all of the regulations of the state in which you operate.
Key takeaway: Only 16 states have specific video surveillance laws. Thirty-four states have prohibited video surveillance in areas where one has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Video surveillance best practices for employers
If you install a video surveillance system in your business, you also need to protect yourself from potential legal ramifications. Here are some of the best practices that employers can use to implement video surveillance to help ensure their employees and customers do not feel as though their privacy has been violated:
Check your state's laws.
As mentioned above, when implementing video surveillance, understand both your and your employees' rights. Check your state laws to see what you can legally monitor and what you cannot. Stay informed on these laws, as they can change frequently.
Choose the best video surveillance system for your business.
When shopping for a surveillance system to protect your assets, you want to make sure you install the best system. Consider your needs, including the type and number of cameras, how much footage you want to store, any additional features, and the price of your system. Collect multiple price quotes, and compare the features before making a final decision.
In any setting where you are conducting video surveillance, put up notices that inform your customers and employees that they are being recorded. This is a courtesy to those affected so they aren't caught off guard. Also, people are less likely to act criminally when they know they're being monitored.
Communicate with employees directly.
Before you install your video surveillance equipment, discuss your new policy with your employees. Be transparent with them about the reasoning behind installing the equipment, and let them know where the cameras are being set up. While not every state requires written consent, it is a courtesy to your employees to inform them.
Maintain the system post-installation.
Like any other technical system, you'll need to maintain your video surveillance system to ensure it's functioning optimally. Make sure the system is recording properly and archiving footage according to the standards and schedule you set.
Regularly check footage.
Regularly watch your footage to ensure the cameras are recording properly and that you are detecting any unusual behavior. Monitor any suspicious behavior and irregular patterns that you notice in your footage. This could prevent a future crime and save you time, effort, and money.
Choose your storage method.
One of the decisions you'll have to make with your surveillance system is where you'll store the footage and how long you'll keep it. Have an organized archive of your footage so you can easily access it at any time you need.
Create an appropriate use and retention policy for archived videos.
Write a policy that clarifies when you can and cannot use the footage in your archived videos and how long you retain it. Share and discuss this policy with your employees to ensure transparency.
Key takeaway: Check the laws in your state to ensure you are not violating any rules or regulations, post signage that discloses you are surveilling an area, maintain your surveillance system so it's in working order, regularly check your footage for unusual behavior, and determine how – and for how long – you will store video footage.