Public or Private? The Boundaries of Security Cameras

As technology becomes more advanced, security cameras are becoming smaller and more mobile, allowing surveillance to take place just about anywhere. People are becoming intertwined in a society that’s constantly connected to one another, and privacy terms are becoming more loosely interpreted. The definition of privacy has changed drastically in the last decade, as it is becoming part of our every-day lives to be monitored by others.  From the obvious security cameras at convenient stores, to the increasing popularity of hidden cameras, people can be monitored on a greater scale. The question is, where is the line drawn between legal monitoring and invasion of privacy?

Most people or companies that install security cameras are striving for the same goal, to deter theft and prevent crime. However, people can reasonably install a camera for mere personal use and there is little anyone can do about it. Basic public monitoring is generally expected now amongst most Americans; however some continue to feel that hidden cameras are a violation to their privacy even in these public arenas.

Cameras are generally placed anywhere there are large concentrations of people or in an area that is visited frequently– the most obvious places being traffic intersections, outside popular buildings like banks and grocery stores, tourist attractions, ATMs, gas stations, schools and the like. While it may be disconcerting to some to be monitored without their knowledge, security of this nature is allowed according to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Katz vs. United States, which states that, “Generally, a person walking along a public sidewalk or standing in a public park cannot reasonably expect that his activity will be immune from the public eye or from observation by the police.”

While there is no federal law to regulate use of security cameras, most state governments would agree that hidden cameras in private areas like public bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms and similar areas are a definite invasion of privacy and should never be used. Although there continues to be a fine line between what’s considered private and not these days, the benefits of security cameras should not be forgotten. Security cameras placed in the public areas mentioned previously are a great asset to the community. If you’ve ever been a store owner who has encountered a thief or in a traffic accident where you had no eye witnesses, security cameras become immensely helpful.

While hidden cameras in public areas are completely legal, it is recommended to consult your local law enforcement or lawyer who is knowledgeable about these laws before installation of the security camera. The laws dictate the allowance for hidden camera use without much stipulation; however, there is still a great deal of legal dispute on the issue.

As legal debates over public privacy are imminent, it should be noted that security cameras in public areas allow police an extra set of eyes, and those in the community an added feeling of safety. Security cameras placed in public places that benefit the overall good of the neighborhood are a great asset and should be treated as such.

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