17 Jul 2018

Editor Introduction

Video cameras are everywhere, and hundreds more are installed every day. Our society appears to be reaching a point of perpetual surveillance. It certainly feels as if we are always being watched even though it is not yet the case. But as cameras are becoming more common than ever, we are also entering a new era of privacy concerns and sensitivities, as evidenced by GDPR and other such initiatives. We presented this quandary to this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: Surveillance cameras can go anywhere, right? Where is it “not OK?”

In most countries and cultures, there are a number of scenarios where it would be considered inappropriate to install surveillance cameras. The most obvious examples would be in bathrooms or bedrooms, but the more interesting cases are those that are not so obvious – such as religious institutions like a church or a mosque. An increase in the boldness of would-be thieves has led to a recent rise in surveillance outside of houses of worship. While often accepted as a necessary action in the modern world, this can still upset the sensibilities of the attending congregations. However, surveillance on the inside of the facility – specifically in the areas considered holy – can be passionately opposed as a step very much too far.

These days, video surveillance is present pretty much everywhere. While it could be argued that in certain situations video surveillance may violate people’s expectation of privacy, the use of video is on the increase given high profile incidents such as the Boston Marathon bombing. In general, public opinion is swaying toward a greater amount of protection offered by video surveillance rather than a greater amount of privacy. There are of course areas such as restrooms where video surveillance is off-limits completely. Then there are locations such as streets where the placement of cameras is not off-limits, but what the cameras can look at – e.g. inside people’s homes – should be off limits. Then there are other locations such as school classrooms where minors are involved, where additional privacy concerns may be warranted. Lastly, new regulations such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe may restrict the locations/applications of video surveillance.

Video surveillance is always a contentious subject with privacy versus safety being the core argument. Recently introduced European Union GDPR legislation on personal privacy has made this even more complicated. Surveillance cameras are important for safety and security, but they need to be installed and operated in a way that is mindful and respectful of the individuals they monitor. For example, you wouldn’t expect CCTV to monitor anywhere people expect privacy such as store changing cubicles, bathrooms, bedrooms within care homes, etc. However, monitoring the public access points to these sensitive areas could be a justified measure. As well as avoiding personal privacy issues from a legitimate operator’s viewpoint, there is always the potential for poorly installed or managed CCTV systems to be hacked and for feeds to be intercepted or stolen by nefarious individuals. It is vital that all eventualities are considered and mitigated to avoid any issues.

Considerations about where not to place surveillance cameras really comes down privacy, practicality and liability. The privacy side of the equation should be self-evident, and practicality asks whether we need coverage in a particular space. Liability, though, is often overlooked. If you have coverage and/or record cameras in a certain area, what risks are you opening up for the company in doing so? If your cameras face public thoroughfares, will your cameras be subpoenaed, and your time and treasure be gobbled up in court cases? A more definitive example: public traffic management centers do not typically record because of the liability involved. Meanwhile, passenger transportation such as subway and buses record to defend from claims. They invest in the technology (and floors of paralegals) specifically due to liability considerations. Privacy, practicality and liability are three considerations when determining where to place surveillance cameras.

Editor Summary

Our Expert Panel Roundtable points out some obvious – and not-so-obvious – locations where video cameras should not be placed. Weighing the safety and security benefits of video surveillance against the privacy concessions they require is a discussion that is not going away.