Video surveillance laws differ greatly from state to state. 8 min read
Video Surveillance Laws by State
Video surveillance laws differ greatly from state to state. There’s a total lack of federal laws prohibiting video surveillance in public, in the workplace, and elsewhere, sometimes known as CCTV, or closed-circuit television. Most states allow this surveillance to occur, but there are some small exceptions, and some circumstances that require monitoring on a case-by-case basis.
In some states, such as New York, Rhode Island, and California, video cameras are not allowed anywhere where an individual has a reasonable expectation of complete privacy. These locations include but are not limited to:
- Changing rooms
- Hotel rooms
- Any place where a person may get undressed
In Delaware and Connecticut, businesses have to notify their employees and customers both if there are any video cameras on the property that may break any expectations of privacy, such as in a bathroom or changing room. If there’s a public notice advising the public that video camera is in use and is posted on the property of a business, an individual’s rights to privacy are wholly forfeited and void.
Most of us accept the realities of video surveillance -- despite being somewhat invasive, cameras have a marked and noticeable impact on crime levels. Generally, people are in favor of using video cameras in locations such as tunnels, stairways, elevators, and parking garages, due to the abnormally high rate of crime that takes place in these locations.
These videos are often used in courts as undeniable evidence. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the only legislation that comes close to addressing a federal stance on these cameras, which is the clause about guarding individuals from unreasonable or unwarranted searches and seizures.
The amendment also requires all search warrants, before they’re deemed legal, to be sanctioned by a court, who must then decide whether or not there is probable cause for issuance of a warrant.
In one Supreme Court case, Justice Potter Stewart ruled that the Fourth Amendment protects individuals, and not places. When an individual knowingly exposes information to the public, they are not eligible for Fourth Amendment protections.
Any individual seeking privacy, even in a public area or an area accessible to the public, however, may still be constitutionally guarded from searches and seizures, depending on the state.
The Constitution does not, however, offer the right to privacy from unauthorized videotaping. States are permitted to pass their own laws pertaining to video surveillance. Florida passed a law that ties criminal penalties to hidden videotaping of individuals anywhere they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as their bathroom. The law does not, however, protect individuals in public places, such as the beach.
Video surveillance is a complex topic that continues to evolve. Surveillance in the United States is constantly growing, owed largely to the 9/11 terror attacks but, unlike the UK, the United States’ surveillance is nowhere near as invasive. In the UK, it’s widely believed that there’s more cameras per individual than any other place on Earth. It’s one of the most heavily-surveilled areas on the planet.
Entrances and exits to buildings are ideal options for camera placement. This location is optimal because cameras placed here have a good chance of capturing images of visitor faces and profiles. Cameras should, by expert recommendation, record the entire door they’re filming, which is about 3 feet wide in most instances.
If a business owner has to choose just one location for a camera, exits are preferred over entrances in a security context because entrances are often distorted by sunlight and/or decor.
In order to best deter crimes, experts agree that placing monitors in plain view of the public is effective. If criminals see these monitors on a wall, behind a security desk or notice it is otherwise being monitored, there’s far less of a chance that the criminal will attempt to commit a crime for fear of leaving behind evidence in the form of being caught on camera.
Over half of the employers who were surveyed by the American Management Association said that they already utilize the benefits of video monitoring. Employees, therefore, would do well to understand the legal situation and limitations surrounding videotaping on company property, and they would also do well to familiarize themselves with the rights workers have as far as privacy in the workplace is concerned.
Video Surveillance Laws for Employers
An overwhelming majority of employers, 48 percent or so, implement video monitoring. This is a deterrent against violence, theft, and sabotage. Another 7 percent of businesses admitted to only using video surveillance in order to gauge worker productivity, and not for security purposes.
Areas businesses typically place under surveillance include any sensitive areas, such as those requiring security, like a server room or database.
75 percent of employers who utilize cameras as a part of their security strategy claim to notify their employees of the policy.
There are no explicit laws or legislation in the United States on the federal level that prohibit employers from monitoring their employees via video surveillance. There are, however, some exceptions. Some workers, who may be engaged in classified or otherwise protected activities in the service of completing their jobs, may be prohibited from surveillance. This is rarer, and circumstantial.
The Federal Wiretapping/Electronic Communications Privacy Act both, in a broad sense, apply to workplace surveillance. The acts both, however, lack specificity, which leaves many of the decisions surrounding video surveillance in the workplace up to the states themselves. The burden of defining what constitutes legal and acceptable monitoring of employees in the workplace falls solely on the shoulders of the states in most instances.
Workers who choose to participate in union organization, or marches for worker solidarity, are similarly exempt from most forms of surveillance. Employers would do well to avoid any legal trouble that could arise from taping their employee union members’ activity, and are encouraged by many to simply disable cameras where applicable, IE., wherever these entities may be having a meeting.
The reason for this is simple. Workers who are participating in the formation or ongoing management of a union are participating legally, and are protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which states that employers cannot monitor their employees while they are engaged in protected activities.
The National Labor Relations Administrative Law Judge made a decision on the Boeing Corporation. The company was instructed to cease photographing and videotaping their employees who were engaged in marches, rallies, protests, or similar activities, when close to company property.
The aviation company was also told to cease creating the impression that the unions in which its employees were involved in were under surveillance, which is illegal, and interfered with the workings of the unions. It was viewed as an attempt to coerce or restrain employees who sought union membership.
The NLRB also determined that the company’s photographic and video surveillance of their employees who were participating in solidarity events such as marches interfered with those worker’s rights to organize under the banner of a union, and improve conditions for workers.
On top of protected activities as viewed by United States federal law, some states have implemented their own limitations and restrictions on what sort of video surveillance businesses operating within their boundaries are legally allowed to use.
Employers are encouraged to develop standards and best practices in the commission of implementing monitoring policies. The standards should wholly comply with the requirements set forth by state law, and should pay additional consideration to employee rights in the workplace as defined by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.
In order for employers to best protect their companies, property, and intellectual property from potential litigation and other legal damages, experts recommend implementing these surveillance policies and ensuring they meet all relevant criteria. This is in the best interests of all involved. Video surveillance in the workplace cannot include any coverage of areas designated for assisting employees to achieve comfort or health benefits. Examples include bathrooms, locker rooms, spas, gyms, etc.
Employers are required to notify their employees of surveillance policies, and are encouraged to show their employees which areas are monitored. Employees who engage in protected activities are not allowed to be customarily targeted for video surveillance of any kind.
Various statutes are presently in effect in different states. For employers, companies, and businesses, it’s important to always understand and appreciate the applicable legislation and statutes as they apply to worker’s rights and surveillance.
Even if not specifically discussed or mandated by state law, openly posting surveillance signs that indicate the presence of a camera is a good idea, according to experts. These notices can magnify a camera’s impact on deterring crime, and makes it less likely that any individuals would attempt to commit a crime or engage in criminal behavior on the premises where the notice was posted.
Many of these statutes address topics such as eavesdropping and wiretapping. Most usually only apply to electronic recordings, such as video tapes, cellphones, and interviews that occurred in-person. Regardless, it’s almost always an illegality to record conversations to which an individual is not a party, and has not given the consent to be taped or overheard.
Federal laws, as well as many state laws, make it illegal for companies and businesses to disclose the contents of any illegally-intercepted calls or communications. Some states even have laws against the criminal purpose of recordings, even if consent is given.
Twenty-four states in total have their own laws pertaining to hidden cameras, and outlaw or restrict the practice in some way.
Thirty-eight states, plus the District of Columbia, permit people to record their conversations, or conversations to which they are a party to, without informing any other parties of their intentions or actions. This law is known as “one party consent.”
One party consent states that, as long as one party to a conversation chooses to record the interaction, it is legal for them to do so.
Nevada has this statute in effect. However, the Supreme Court interpreted the law differently -- as an “all party rule.” Across the country in Alabama, the covert filming of individuals while they were trespassing on private properties was considered unlawful surveillance. This may sound strange to many. It’s considered an aggravated offense to record anyone, in any place, while the individual has an expectation of privacy, without their prior express written consent.
Alabama’s notorious eavesdropping statutes criminalize the use of any devices used to overheard, record, or capture any communications, whether or not the eavesdropper is present, without the express consent of one or more parties engaged in conversation or communication.
In Alaska, it’s a misdemeanor to use any eavesdropping devices to record, or hear any conversations without the express consent of one or more parties to a conversation. In New York state, the highest court ruled that these eavesdropping statutes were intended to only prohibit third-party intercepts of any communications, and thus, doesn’t apply to any participants to a conversation.
Arkansas statutes conclude that the interception of any wires, such as cellular or cordless phone conversations, is illegal, unless the recording party is a party to the conversation, or can prove that one of the other parties to the communication gave prior consent.
In Arizona, it is illegal to tape a person without their consent while that person is in a restroom, bathroom, bedroom, locker room, is undressed or engaged in sexual activities, unless notices are posted.
In Colorado, it is considered a felony for an individual to record or intercept any telephone conversation or communication that occurred electronically without the express consent of one or more parties. However, recording any communications from cordless telephones is considered a misdemeanor.
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