January 24, 2015

When Will a Surveillance System Land You in Prison?

Video surveillance systems are an excellent tool for home business and at home. A camera system can record criminal activity from burglary, robbery, vandalism and theft. In a business environment a system can be used to monitor employee performance and customer traffic. The benefits and uses are many.

Many homeowners and business owners alike often ask me a cameraseemingly harmless question, “can we put microphones to record audio as well?” Video surveillance and audio surveillance or recording are two different animals. The latter will quickly land you in hot water criminally and civilly very quickly. And the fines for violating  these laws are extremely expensive.

When it comes to surveillance the owner has carte blanche to record video in the interest of safety and security. The only exception are:

  • bathroom stalls
  • dressing rooms
  • locker rooms
  • changing rooms
  • someone else’s house

Recording audio is not so free. Recording audio is illegal when you have audio surveillance taking place without the permission of those monitored. This goes for residential, commercial and retail settings.

Most states have audio consent laws which MUST get the consent of your the party being recorded. In a private setting where a consent agreement has been signed this may work. In a public place, like a store or office, the audio may pick up conversation between two or more quests who haven’t consented. Signs will not work. No statute says you can post signs to obtain implied consent. Some states, including New York, are “one party” states; that means you can audiotape a conversation as long as you are part of that conversation; it does not mean you can audiotape a conversation between others without the consent.

10624590_919735998037557_8228563302607921883_nI recently came across a self serve yogurt business in Rochester, NY that had overt surveillance cameras as well as microphones. When speaking with the attendant we were advised that the business owner records and listens to the audio from these mics. This use of surveillance to record audio crosses the line and can place the business in legal hot water.

Audio and video surveillance equipment are useful tools, however federal, state, and local laws must be considered before implementing such systems.  Microphones allow owners to not only see what is going on at their home or business, but also allow you to hear what is going on. But on the same token federal and state laws may be violated.

Illegal wiretapping violations can result in imprisonment for not more than five years and fines up to $250,000 (up to $500,000 for organizations) plus civil liability for damages, attorneys’ fees and possibly punitive damages.

So, when considering surveillance, video is much less riskier. Audio, best to not go there. If you have any doubt, don’t go there or consult an attorney.