5 Liability Facts About Video Surveillance

Surveillance camera
Photo by Tuur Tisseghem (Pexels)

Shannon Flynn is a Guest Writer and the Managing Editor of Rehack Magazine.

It is easy to overlook the relationship between physical security and intellectual property (IP). Just as video surveillance can help deter or provide evidence of people stealing physical property, it can do the same for IP. Cameras let companies monitor employee actions, protect data centres, or watch printers that may process sensitive documents.

Cameras can be a helpful tool, but they also raise a few concerns about liability. With that in mind, here are five facts about liability for video surveillance that you should know.

1. Video liability laws vary widely

Like many legal restrictions, video liability laws vary widely based on jurisdiction. For example, the state of Georgia permits video surveillance in both private and public settings so long as the cameras are in plain sight. In contrast, Canada requires you to have a demonstrable need for covert surveillance to record in private places without people knowing.

If you are considering installing cameras in any setting outside your home, you should look at your specific area’s laws. What may be legal in one place could trigger serious legal issues in another. Knowing what you can and cannot do can help protect your IP while staying within your legal rights.

2. Installing cameras can limit liability

While installing a video surveillance system may appear to increase your liability, the opposite can be true in some cases. People in some situations, such as property owners leasing to tenants, may have a legal duty to provide some amount of protection. Installing cameras may arguably demonstrate that you are taking steps to do so, which may limit your liability if something happens.

Similarly, someone in charge of protecting a company’s IP may have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps towards that goal. It is worth noting that there is little precedent to demonstrate what precisely that duty entails outside of the person’s contract.

Some affected people may feel that installing cameras alone is likely not enough to remove all liability should a privacy breach occur. However, installing a video surveillance system can be a valuable part of a larger strategy and, along with other protections like data encryption and network access controls, may help limit liability in these situations.

3. Video with audio carries more liability

Not all forms of video surveillance carry equal weight in the eyes of the law. Most notably, cameras that capture audio as well as video are subject to stricter regulations since they must comply with audio surveillance laws as well. Employers must have a legitimate business purpose, like protecting company IP, to install these systems. Depending on local laws, some amount of consent may be required as well. For example, in Canada, recording private conversations is illegal without the consent of those speaking or legal authority, like a warrant. You may be able to get permission to record audio, but you may have to appeal to local authorities.

Given these varying regulations, you may want to avoid video with audio, but if you think it’s necessary, be sure to check local laws first.

4. Recording without foreknowledge is sometimes permissible

It may seem like a given that you must let people know that you are recording them. While this seems like a reasonable expectation, some laws allow people in some contexts to set up video surveillance without anyone knowing.

For example, in Pennsylvania, people can record you in a public space without your knowledge. The same is true in many places, as public areas do not carry the same expectation of privacy as private property. Protecting your IP by setting up video cameras in the workplace is different. Organizations in Ontario must notify people on the property that they are under video surveillance.

Laws aside, it may be best to let people know if you are installing cameras in an area out of respect for their privacy. If you are in public, regulations may be a bit more open, but remember that what constitutes a private place can vary based on jurisdiction.

5. Fake cameras can still create liability

The mere presence of cameras can deter crime since they make people feel like they are being watched, hence, discouraging them from taking suspicious actions. Given the potential for deterrence, some people may consider installing fake cameras to dissuade IP theft while avoiding surveillance-related liability. People may not realize that fake cameras may still create liability.

The presence of cameras, even if fake, can foster a sense of security, and if those feelings are false, it can create liability. People have successfully sued organizations in the past for installing fake cameras when criminal actions took place. If you’re debating between fake and real cameras, remember that some amount of liability could arise either way.

Understand your liability before implementing video surveillance

Video surveillance can help secure your IP, but it can also establish some legal liabilities. Considering these consequences, make sure to inform yourself of your local laws before installing any cameras. Understanding relevant laws in your jurisdiction can help protect you against legal action.

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