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Considering the Legal Ramifications of Video Surveillance

June 22, 2011 - 0 Comments

Before installing IP cameras at your small business, make sure you understand the potential “gotchas”.

Small businesses install surveillance cameras for many reasons. They keep your business and assets safe, improve productivity, and can provide a strategic advantage. Today’s IP cameras and monitoring software make it easy for any small business to manage its own surveillance. But before you aim any cameras at your front door or shop floor, make sure you carefully consider all of the legal ramifications of setting up video surveillance. There are more legal ”gotchas“ than just what you can and cannot record.

Video surveillance is ruled by common sense and laws at the city, state, and federal levels, and dictate against setting up cameras that violate people’s privacy. For example, you cannot record anyone in or near bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, hotel rooms, exam rooms, or other private spaces in which people can reasonably expect to maintain their privacy. Public places, however, are a different matter. You can set up cameras in lobbies, hallways, waiting rooms, and other public areas. Depending on where your business is located, the law might require you to post a sign in an obvious place, such as by your front door, that states “video surveillance in use.”

You may, however, run into a gray area between the public and private spaces in your office. What if you need to aim your IP camera down a hallway to monitor the entrance to your business, but the view happens to include the bathroom interior when the bathroom door is opened? You can’t record people entering and exiting the bathroom, but you need to monitor your front door. That’s where technology comes in. With IP-based video cameras plus sophisticated monitoring software like the Cisco Advanced Video Monitoring System (AVMS), you can create a more intelligent surveillance system that can, for instance, apply privacy blocks to particular areas in a video stream, like that bathroom door.  The privacy block permanently removes the video of the area selected not to be viewable.

It’s also important to know if the laws that govern recording in particular situations or for different types of organizations apply to you. For example, schools must adhere to very strict rules about recording children, and a doctor’s office needs to know how HIPPA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) applies to video surveillance and patients’ privacy.

Wait … don’t press Record yet!

You can run into additional legal ”gotchas“ after you hit the record button. You need to consider the ramifications of having video recordings of the area surrounding your business. If a crime occurs within your camera’s range, your business could get dragged into the legal proceedings, even if none of your employees or property were actively involved in the incident. This can be time consuming and a drain on employee productivity if your video surveillance system doesn’t make it easy to find the recording in question.

Imagine this scenario, for example: There’s a robbery at an ATM across the street from your business and your surveillance cameras happen to record it. The police are likely to request a copy of the recorded incident, and you’ll be required to provide them, no matter the impact on your business. However, if your surveillance system’s monitoring software, like the Cisco Advanced Video Monitoring System (AVMS),  lets you find recordings quickly based on time stamps, that impact will be negligible.

If you have any questions about surveillance laws at your city or state level, you can contact a local law enforcement agency for more information. You could also enlist the help of a Cisco reseller that specializes in deploying IP-based video surveillance. As experts in such systems, they understand surveillance laws and have the know-how to help your small business comply with all rules and regulations.

What legal “gotchas” have you encountered with your video surveillance system?

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