Using Security Cameras While Respecting Privacy

Tips for Implementing a Reasonable Surveillance Policy

Surveillance monitor
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Preventing internal theft, drug use, and workplace violence; these are all valid reasons for using security cameras in the workplace. Such activities can cost your business plenty in terms of lost inventory, decreased productivity and injury. But while you are responsible for protecting your company's bottom line, you also need to respect your staff's right to privacy. This article will give business managers and owners some guidelines for using security cameras as part of a reasonable security policy.


I know of a company whose IT people installed a webcam on a factory floor. They were preparing for a webcast from a trade show and wanted to run some tests before going live. The conspiracy theories that started to fly when workers noticed the new camera would have made Jerry Fletcher proud. The camera came down, and fears were laid to rest, but the entire dust-up might have been avoided by a simple memo explaining why and for how long the camera would be used.

If you plan on deploying security cameras in your organization, please communicate with your employees and explain the new initiative to them. Express your concerns with theft, or safety, or whatever the motivation happens to be and give employees the opportunity to ask questions. This kind of openness will go a long way to alleviate the suspicions that security cameras can raise.

Communicating - whether via email, memo, or company-wide meeting - gives you another advantage. When you require employees to acknowledge your surveillance policy, you may be saving yourself from legal challenges down the road.

Stay Visible

In my opinion, security cameras should be kept in full view whenever possible. Not only do visible cameras have a strong deterrent value, but they are another way to encourage trust. Employees may be less likely to believe they are being watched covertly if they know where your cameras are stationed.

However, there are times when covert cameras are necessary. If a crime has been committed, recorded evidence may be necessary to prosecute the crime or prevent further instances. In such cases, a fascinating array of hidden cameras are available. Thanks to advances in miniaturization and wireless technology, cameras can be hidden in computer speakers, smoke detectors, eyeglasses, neckties, pagers, clocks, pens, exit signs and more. Just search the term "covert cameras" or visit a company like Supercircuits to learn more.

Keep Quiet

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 restricts the recording of audio. The legal considerations for recording audio are outside the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that when you record audio, you are essentially wiretapping and you have to meet strict requirements in order to do so legally. The ECPA does not cover silent video recordings, so limit your surveillance to video.

Be Reasonable

There are certain areas, such as restrooms, that you just shouldn't monitor. The law recognizes a "reasonable expectation of privacy" when considering surveillance issues. Public dressing rooms, restrooms, and phone booths are all examples of places designed for privacy, and so a person can reasonably assume they are not being watched in these locations. Public areas such as shopping malls, sports stadiums, hallways, and parking lots are not built for privacy and so monitoring and recording in such locations is usually legal.

Let common sense be your guide when deciding where to install cameras. If you have questions, it's in your best interest to speak with an attorney familiar with your state's privacy laws before you begin your monitoring program.