Getting on the Right Side of the Law with Video Surveillance Cameras

Video surveillance cameras are increasingly becoming prevalent in residential and commercial areas across the United States. Home, business and property owners are using these devices for a wide range of purposes such as complementing an existing security system, monitoring employee (e.g., nanny) and customer behavior, and preventing security breaches (e.g., losses, violations), among others.

But the prevalence of video surveillance cameras raises many questions that must be answered before actual installation. Keep in mind that the Fourth Amendment comes into the picture in these cases so be careful about getting on the right side of the law when using these cameras on your premises.

Covert Surveillance Explained

When the cameras cannot be identified and cannot be seen, then it is considered as covert surveillance. It is on the rise among homeowners usually in monitoring the activities of their nannies and kids as well as in gathering evidence in case of break-ins, among other uses.

In the United States, security cameras are largely legal although it must be emphasized that these devices should not intrude upon any individual’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy. This is where things can become tricky in a heartbeat so it will work in your favor to seek legal advice before installing security cameras around your property.

Placement of Security Cameras

Most of the tricky issues stemming from the use of video surveillance cameras come from their placement. For example, in a court of law, a jury is more likely to pass an innocent or guilty verdict with more reason and less doubt when video surveillance footage is shown in a case. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words.

Studies have shown that the calculated placement of covert surveillance cameras can aid in the detection and prosecution of various criminal activities. These include theft, vandalism and harrassment (i.e., stalking) as well as child abuse, elder neglect, and domestic violence. As such, places like retail stores, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, construction sites, casinos and even police stations as well as homes are common venues.

These public and private places are good venues but, again, the placement of the security cameras matter in getting on the right side of the law. While most camera surveillance systems are legal in the United States, these are illegal in places where people have a rightful expectation of privacy.

Examples of these places include bathroom stalls, dressing rooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms. Of course, placing cameras insider someone else’s property for the purpose of spying on them is illegal – unless, you are a law enforcement officer with a legal right to do so obviously.

But it is not just the images that can become a legal trap. Taking audio recordings along with the video images is considered illegal when:

    • The recording device is left unattended; and

    • The conversations being recorded are considered as private talks (i.e., you are not part of these conversations)

    • The recording was conducted without the express consent of the person being monitored when he/she as reasonable expectations of privacy.

Indeed, the use of video surveillance with accompanying audio recordings has many legal traps in it. You should first consult with your lawyer or with a security expert to ensure that your plan will not backfire.

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Master Key And Single Key Systems: Pros and Cons

Lock and key systems are still the most common security systems for residential and commercial properties for obvious reasons. Let’s take a look at their pros and cons so that you can see for yourself.

In a master key system, locks are installed for the entire facility in such a way that the property owner installs the locks on all doors or provides the tenants with the locks for installation at the time of rental. Tenants are then not permitted to install their own locks while the operator maintains a master key that will unlock, disable or overlock all of the tenants’ locks.

Several risks are present in using a master key system especially in a self-storage facility:

  1. The creation of a bailment over the tenants’ property can be a violation of the laws regarding self-storage in the state. Keep in mind that, under the law, operators of self-storage facilities have the obligation of “ordinary duty of care” – you may be held liable for certain situations where entry into the units is a must for the protection of the tenants’ property.
  2. The liability for losses increases because the tenants can allege missing items to employee theft. The master key system, in other words, invites the risk that employees will engage in criminal activity, due to their access to all the units.

But the advantages of a master key system can outweigh its disadvantages when properly managed.

  1. The system makes it easier for employees and authorities to conduct investigations into potential dangers like chemical odors, fires, and pests. For example, drilling into the lock can cause fires if there are flammable substances so a master lock is a better option.
  2. The tenants are discouraged from storing illegal or inappropriate goods with the knowledge that the master key system is in place.
  3. The tenants can use the facility for deliveries – the operator can open the units to place the deliveries inside or to inspect possible causes for inventory damage.
  4. The operator can perform routine maintenance measures on the units, say, a leak on the roof or flooding on the floor.

Ask your insurance provider about the terms and conditions when your facility has a master key system. Inform your tenants, too, about the arrangement and discuss waivers to lessen the risks for disagreements.

The single key system is suitable for residential properties where only a few yet trusted number of individuals require access. In this systems all external doors can be locked and unlocked with the single key with the point being that nobody can cut the keys without written authorization.

Single key systems are of special use in homes where elderly individuals and invalid people live independently or semi-independently. Family members, healthcare professionals, and other caregivers can make regular visits using the single key system, which means minimising the number of keys for tracking purposes.

In the end, the decision to use either of these two systems is a personal decision – or in the case of commercial facilities, a business decision – but the fact remains that it should be just one of an entire security system consisting of, say, security cameras and perimeter fences.

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Home Security Systems – Wireless or Hard Wired?

There has been an ongoing debate about the qualities of wireless and hard wired security systems. Some will instantly suggest the selection of a wireless system while others prefer the more traditional hard wired variety.

When picking a security system, you need to examine the pros and the cons that each possibility provides. Once you draw the comparison, you will get all the information needed to decide.


How reliable is each security system when it comes to detecting intruders? This is the first and the most important question you will need to ask yourself.

There has been some research suggesting that the wireless systems are slightly more likely to set off a false alarm. Some people are also concerned about the possibility of signal interference in the case of a wireless system selection. Such issues are becoming less and less common as the technology improves.


The hard wired security system is more difficult to install. The DIY installation can last anywhere up to 16 hours. In the case of wireless technologies, most homeowners will need just a couple of hours to have the system up and running.

There will be some hard wiring even in the case of a wireless system. The power transformer and the admin stations feature among the parts of the system that will have to be hard wired. There are some wireless systems that eliminate these steps but the options are still a few.

Installation and Maintenance Cost

Since wireless systems utilize newer technologies, they tend to be more expensive than the hard wired varieties. The spare parts are also costlier.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that the professional installation of a hard wired system is more expensive due to the number of hours that it takes.

A wireless system will require frequent battery replacements, which will add up to the maintenance costs. In the long-run, a wireless system will be costlier to use. This is an important consideration. Do the calculations before purchasing one variety or the other.

Advantages of Each Variety

The hard wired security system is still considered more reliable, though its advantage over the wireless system is slight. Since many homes are already pre-wired, the installation can be a relatively simple task. The sensors and components tend to be cheaper and there is no risk of signal interference.

A wireless system, on the other hand, is much more convenient in terms of installation. There are no exposed wires interfering with interior design or decreasing the safety of your home. Remote home security control is possible through the use of a wireless system. Such systems provide some flexibility in terms of sensor installation and placement.

When it comes to features, each security system variety has its strengths and its weaknesses. Your budget, your sensor installation needs and requirements for additional features will help you determine whether to pick a wireless or a hard wired system.

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