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  • Writer's pictureLeslie A. Farber

Are Security Cameras Invading Your Privacy?What you should know to protect yourself

security camera app on cell phone

In today’s technology-driven world, we’re surrounded by security cameras. They’re installed in business establishments, on stop lights, indoors, and outdoors.  Chances are you have one set up to record who comes to your home or monitor your children, pets, and elderly family members. Cameras may make us feel more secure and give us peace of mind, but is that sufficient to warrant an erosion of our privacy?  When you weigh the benefits against the privacy concerns, you might decide to pull the plug on that surveillance device or at least take steps to protect others from viewing what you might not want them to see.


Just How Private Are Your Camera Recordings?

When you installed your camera, you may have been so focused on your reasons for getting one that you didn’t give any thought to the fact that someone other than you may gain access to its recordings or live feed.  It might surprise you to learn that what your camera records can be seen by more than just your eyes.  Police, camera/security companies, and hackers may get a glimpse into what is happening in your private world.


Up until January of 2024, Ring had partnered with law enforcement agencies, granting them unrestricted access to footage from its users’ cameras through its Request for Assistance tool. Police just needed to submit a request within the Ring’s Neighbors app and users could share relevant footage, decline the request, or contact the company for more information.  This direct access to users, which bypassed warrants, raised privacy, coercion, and profiling concerns.  As a result of user outcry, the company changed its policy to require a warrant or user consent - but this doesn’t prevent governments from accessing your recordings; it only limits the ease with which they can do so.


San Francisco takes it one step further.  It enacted an ordinance that allows police to request access to live footage of privately-owned surveillance cameras with limitations, expanding the previously-held right to request recorded footage.  The goal of the ordinance is to enhance public safety.  Although cameras may help law enforcement solve crimes and ward off burglars and porch pirates, research indicates that cameras do little to deter violent crimes.  Is the privacy trade off worth the alleged safety benefits?


But it’s not just the police and vendors you need to worry about peeking into your private life. Hackers and cyber criminals may break into your system and use your recordings or live feed for nefarious reasons, maybe even blackmailing you.


Follow Applicable Laws

If you do decide to utilize a security camera, it's imperative that you know the legal implications. There are basically two types of laws around the use of security cameras:

●      Expectation of Privacy: While it is generally legal to record in public, i.e., porch camera and security, you should not record in places where people have an expectation of privacy, such as bathrooms, locker rooms, hotel rooms, and bedrooms.

●      Consent Laws: When it comes to audio as part of the camera recordings, you need to know the laws of your jurisdiction.  Some allow for one party consent, while others require two party consent.


Research the laws of your state, county, and city to make sure you are in compliance.


Know Your Rights at Work

Many employers utilize security cameras to reduce theft, record accidents, prevent harassment or physical altercations, or protect patrons.  The rule of thumb is that a business must have a legitimate reason for using video cameras to record its employees.  Some companies have formal surveillance policies in place and require employees to sign release forms. Employers cannot, however, record union activities or record in areas where there is an expectation of privacy.


Protect Your Privacy at Home

When using a security camera in your home, follow these tips to protect yourself:

●      Buy from a reputable camera brand that has more security features in place

●      Enable end-to-end encryption to protect against hacking

●      Set up strong passwords

●      If possible, use a separate WiFi network to prevent hackers from accessing your computer

●      Provide any requested or required recordings to police in the form of a downloaded file rather than direct access


If you decide to a security camera, weigh the benefits against the privacy risks and be sure to take steps to protect yourself.


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The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.

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