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Use Security Cameras and Closed-Circuit TV on Campus

Alyssa Keehan, Esq., CPCU, ARM
October 2020
Guidelines to ensure lawful and proper use of cameras

Installing security cameras and closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems can raise privacy rights issues for students, employees, and visitors at your campus. But these essential security tools can help your K-12 school, college, or university meet its legal duty to use reasonable care to protect the physical safety of those on campus. Surveillance systems also can deter crime and gather evidence to convict perpetrators.

Operating guidelines are necessary to prevent unlawful or improper use of security cameras. Courts recognize a right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution and in several state constitutions. People have a reasonable expectation of privacy in places such as residences, bathrooms, and locker rooms. Moreover, federal and state laws place limits on the appropriate use of surveillance technologies.

To operate security cameras or a CCTV system, adopt guidelines that cover:

  • Objectives. Clearly define authorized purposes such as the prevention of crime and public disorder, identifying criminal activity and suspects, gathering evidence, and documenting police actions.
  • Locations. Security cameras and CCTV are usually placed in public or open locations such as streets, sidewalks, parks, building commons areas, parking lots, and stadiums. In residential buildings, cameras may be installed around entrances and exits, stairwells, and hallways. Surveillance tools are usually not placed in residence hall rooms, bathrooms, or locker rooms without a court order or approval by the police chief.
  • Signage. If you decide to use security cameras, notify people who may be affected. It is often sufficient to describe the surveillance program on the campus safety website and post signs announcing the presence (but not the specific location) of security cameras. Review the posting and content of signage with your legal counsel.
  • Storage of recordings. Store recorded images for a time period consistent with your institution’s record-retention policies and state records laws. After that, delete images unless they are needed in a legal proceeding.
  • Training. Train personnel on the installation, use, and monitoring of cameras, and on the collection of video or digital data, applicable laws, and ethical considerations.
  • Violations. Require reporting to campus police any unauthorized or illegal use of the security cameras or CCTV system. Discipline violators and consider referring them for criminal prosecution.
  • Needs assessment and review. Perform a needs assessment before initiating a surveillance program. To ensure your program meets its objectives, periodically review the security technology’s effectiveness.
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