The Rules on the Legal Use of Video Surveillance by State

You’re on candid camera!

We affectionately remember the show where innocent victims were pranked and then let it on the secret that they were being secretly recorded the entire time – purely for entertainment purposes.

While this might sound like all fun and games, the seriousness of using video surveillance as a security measure is no laughing matter.

Video evidence is some of the most damaging and compelling in a criminal case. After all, what’s better than catching a criminal in the act?

But before you start wiring your business, venue, or construction site with cameras, it’s important to know how to legally use video surveillance. 

Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of the law and how to properly use the footage you collect.

Not All States Are Created Equal

Similar to laws surrounding recorded audio conversations, video surveillance laws differ from state to state. 

There are currently no federal laws in place addressing video surveillance, which means that each state must create its own guidelines. Of the 50 states, only 16 have created laws surrounding the use of cameras and video surveillance.

As with most laws, there are countless loopholes and contingencies surrounding each, but here’s a brief breakdown of current video surveillance laws.

New Hampshire, Maine, Kansas, South Dakota, and Deleware

In these states, establishments need consent to use hidden camera surveillance of any kind.

Tennessee, Michigan, and Utah

Here, you don’t need permission to install video surveillance in public places but do need consent for hiding cameras in places considered private. 

Hawaii

If you want to install cameras in Hawaii, you can legally do so as long as you have the consent of those being watched. 

Florida, Alabama, and Minnesota

Hidden video surveillance is legal in these three states but only in non-private locations. It’s important to note what is and isn’t considered a private place.

In most jurisdictions, a private place is anywhere that the person can expect a certain level of privacy. These locations include bathrooms, dressing rooms, showers, and bedrooms.

California

California deems it illegal for anyone to make a video recording of communications that are considered confidential. This is information passed from one individual to another and is only intended to be heard by the person being addressed.

Arkansas

In Arkansas, you can legally record individuals in private places but need their consent.

Georgia

Georgia permits video surveillance in both private and public places but only if the cameras are in plain sight.  

It’s important to note that just because your state may not appear on this list doesn’t mean you have carte-blanche to install cameras wherever you want without disclosing this information. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind if your state doesn’t have specific laws regarding video surveillance.

The Absence of Video Surveillance Laws

If there are no laws in your state surrounding video surveillance that means you can’t get in trouble for installing cameras in private places, right? Wrong.

The absence of a law means that the judge has no set rules to follow when presiding over the case. This may or may not work in your favor.

Each case is handled on an individual basis, which means the judge might deem your actions justified or may rule in favor of the victim whos’ rights were violated.

In criminal cases where video surveillance captures a crime, the footage must be compelling enough to outweigh any rights the accused may have. 

Video Surveillance Done Right

Regardless of the current laws, your state can enact video surveillance laws at any time. Most laws are designed to protect people from being recorded in private places or without consent. 

To protect yourself, it’s best to always mount cameras where they are clearly visible. Not only does this protect you from legal ramifications down the line, but it may even deter crimes from happening in the first place.

Criminals are more hesitant to commit crimes where video cameras are clearly mounted. The same holds true for employees. The presence of cameras persuades people to be on their best behavior, keeping your assets safe. 

When it comes to mounting cameras in private locations, you better have a valid reason or reside in a state where it’s permitted. It’s rare that a judge will accept video footage collected from a camera in a private area such as a bathroom or bedroom unless all parties involved knew they were being filmed. 

A common practice is video surveillance in dressing rooms at retail stores. These cameras are there to prevent shoplifting and other crimes. But in most cases, these cameras are accompanied by clearly posted signs letting patrons know they are being recorded.

Video Without Audio

Remember the audio conversations mentioned earlier? These laws come into play when discussing video surveillance too. After all, if your cameras are capable of recording audio, you need to follow the rules surrounding these laws as well.

As with video surveillance laws, audio recording laws vary from state to state. However, there are federal laws currently in place for audio recording. Federal law states that you can legally record a conversation as long as one of the people involved knows about it.

37 of the 50 states abide by these laws, while the other 13 have created their own version of this federal standard. In these states, all parties involved in the audio recording must give consent. That means you can’t secretly record a conversation by slipping a recording device in your pocket or wearing a wire.

That means that if you reside in one of the following states, you can get into legal trouble if your video surveillance equipment has audio recording capabilities. 

  • Washington
  • California
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Illinois
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Florida
  • Maryland
  • Connecticut
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania 
  • Massachusetts

But keep in mind that even if you capture usable video surveillance legally if you obtained audio as well, this portion of evidence may not be admissible. 

Understand Video Surveillance Laws to Protect Yourself

You’re already considering installing cameras to protect yourself against damages or crimes. Take it one step further by protecting yourself against legal ramifications. This starts by understanding the laws surrounding video surveillance and adhering to them.

Considering video surveillance for your construction site or tradeshow? Let us provide you protection and peace of mind.

Contact one of our professionals today for more information. 

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