July 6, 2013

Security, protection and privacy

A local business needed a new security camera system that would let management oversee operations when offsite and to determine customer traffic patterns in the restaurant for scheduling of staff as well as monitoring for employee pilferage.

Management shared the design of a proposed camera system to be provided by a telecommunications company, “Company A”. The proposed camera system had numerous cameras in the restaurant to monitor key areas such as customer service, the manager’s office, drive-up service, as well as the dining area and stockroom. Not only did Company A not have the proper credentials such as state licensing and experience in security and life safety but its core business focus was telecommunications systems.

The “J Edgar Hoover” Surveillance System.
When I sat down with this business owner to review the proposed layout designed by Company A, my eyes were immediately drawn to a series of critical design flaws. YIKES! One flaw was serious enough for me to inform our client that his business could be at risk if Company A’s system was installed as designed.

The proposed system had a camera located in the dining area to enable management to monitor the dining room to determine if proper customer service is being provided by staff. This in itself is innocent and commonplace for the restaurant industry. Company A had placed this camera (in red) facing the bathrooms that are also located in the dining area (see image). While placing a camera in the dining room has a viable business purpose, having it face the bathrooms is a little creepy to customers and is a serious design flaw which could potentially open the business to privacy concerns with patrons.


Competition’s System

By placing the camera’s field of view directly opposite of the bathrooms entry (camera in red), the designer of Company A created tension between privacy and security as well as a legal controversy for the client.

Customers and employees alike are well aware that surveillance is commonplace in business and in the public sector. Customers will take quick notice of a camera facing the bathroom doors and become easily offended. Perception is reality: if a customer perceives a notion in their mind then it is real.

Our Solution: Privacy Meets Security.
When designing security systems we as security professionals must always strike a balance between SECURITY and PRIVACY.

The system designer must always identify specific targets that should be in the camera view without violating privacy. Bathrooms are equivocally off-limits to surveillance and monitoring. As a general rule, video monitoring without knowledge or consent is illegal when they are in an area that a reasonable expectation of privacy is assured. This includes, but may not be limited to, bathrooms, boarding rooms, locker rooms or changing rooms. It may also be illegal to record video or audio in public areas. Check your local laws on video and audio monitoring and recording.

The same system is redesigned with privacy working as a partner in security. The reworked camera layout now has the camera (in red) with its back against the bathrooms and will never have the bathrooms entry doors in the field of view (see below).

Our privacy-centric solution

This properly designed system will still enable management to monitor customer service quality but is no longer viewing the bathrooms. The customers are assured that they can visit the bathrooms without the worry of their privacy being violated.

When a business owner is considering surveillance for his or her business, always consider working with (1) a licensed security company and (2) a security company that comprehends the importance of privacy. A competent and skilled security consultant will design a system that delivers on its premise while keeping the business out of legal hot water.