Security Cameras

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What are the laws regarding installation of security cameras?

Question:  I am thinking about putting security cameras on my building to watch the front and the back of the property. Is this legal for me to do? Can you please confirm if it is legal for me to put security cameras on the outside of the building and the guidelines regarding hidden cameras and employee privacy?

Answer:  A property owner may install video security cameras about theirown property. The cameras should be installed so that they are visible and people can see that they are being video recorded. The owner, however, cannot use video cameras to record in such a manner that intrudes on a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy.  An example of this might be directing a camera toward a neighbor’s bedroom window.  But recording a common area or a public area, such as a common hallway or walkway, is generally permissible since a person typically does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in those areas.

Guidelines Regarding Hidden Cameras and Employee Privacy

Under California law, property owners and employers should cautiously consider where and how they install hidden cameras. In 2009, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling in Hernandez v. Hillsides, Inc. clarifying the ethical and privacy standards that employers must consider when installing hidden cameras. The Supreme Court clarified that under common law and the California Constitution, property owners and employers may not (1) intrude in a manner that violates an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy, and (2) the intrusion cannot be highly offensive to a reasonable person.

Moreover, although there is a diminished right to the expectation of privacy in the work place, employers should generally not install a surveillance system without the knowledge and consent of their employees as privacy rights are at stake.

Take Precautions

As such, employers should take the following three precautions when considering the installation of a surveillance system:

  1. Give prior notice. Employers should give prior notice to employees who may be subject to monitoring by a hidden surveillance system in order to avoid violating an employee’s privacy rights under California law.
  2. Limit the scope of surveillance. An employee should limit the time and scope of the surveillance system to visible areas such as hallways and common areas.
  3. Fully disclose the existence of the hidden surveillance system. Employers should consider posting signs in the work place disclosing the existence of the surveillance system.

While this case dealt with an employer’s obligations to its employees, it would be a good practice for a property owner to follow similar guidelines when installing security cameras on a resident occupied building.

Contributor: Steve Williams, Attorney