Who’s Watching You? Video Surveillance-User Beware!

video surveillance

I routinely find myself being called upon to provide advice regarding the various benefits and risks associated with the applications of video surveillance, particularly the possible exposures to property owners or other key stakeholders regarding its use.

As more and more businesses, malls, hotels, schools, places of entertainment, and municipalities seek out additional methods to enhance the public safety of those they are tasked to protect we are seeing an increase in the use of this longtime security tool.

As property owners often assume duty-of-care responsibilities for those persons who access and use their locations, an increased degree of responsibility, diligence, and vigilance is often placed upon their shoulders. This is one of the reasons why security technology—i.e., video surveillance—has become an essential part of many protection platforms.

Video Surveillance is Not a Cure-All

Video surveillance will not provide absolute security, as no form of security is absolute.

While security technology is often viewed as a “force multiplier,” the implementation of video surveillance alone should NOT be viewed as a single-source solution or as a crime preventative. The argument can be made that video surveillance can be a powerful and effective deterrent to crime when integrated into a comprehensive platform of security management practices (access control, intrusion alarms, visitor management, lighting, signage, etc.) However, video surveillance should never be thought of as a “cure all”. Video surveillance will not prevent acts of crime from a person who is determined and would seek to cause harm or mischief on your property. Video surveillance will not provide absolute security, as no form of security is absolute.

The use of surveillance cameras can also be a powerful investigative tool for both safety and security applications. From slips-trips-&-falls to thefts and assaults, the use of this technology can yield tremendous results in many aspects.

Increased Responsibility When Video is Used

However, the use of this tool can also create an increased level of responsibility and accountability which will fall squarely upon the organization.

The courts have found the use of surveillance technology in certain locations such as public parking lots and garages where criminal activity (robbery, theft, carjacking, sexual assaults, etc.) has historically been a concern, the placement of video surveillance in these areas can create a heightened expectation of a security response by those who use these areas. People may choose to use these locations believing they are safer because of the presence of security cameras and that a response would speed to their aid if they should find themselves in an emergency situation.

Video surveillance can convey a false sense of security if no one is actively monitoring the images captured by the camera.

Video surveillance often conveys a false sense of security, however, if no one is actively monitoring the images captured by the camera.  The placement of unmonitored security cameras in public areas such as gyms, playgrounds or other play areas for children, swimming pools, etc. can potentially create costly exposure and liability problems for the property owner.

While the use of video surveillance has long since been a mainstay of security risk management practices, its proper use, effectiveness, and vulnerabilities seem often to come into question.

What to do–and not to do

When implementing or enhancing a video surveillance system for the protection of your property please consider the following suggestions …

Make Sure to…

  • Restrict camera placement to common areas such as points of access into your facility or structure, high-risk areas such as places where cash or other financial transactions occur, critical operation areas such as IT server rooms, HVAC or generator/power areas, and high theft/value placement or storage locations; jewelry, cash, rare art/artifacts/vehicles, furs, liquor, foods, weapons, etc.
  • Right-size your video surveillance platform; resist the up-sell from technology vendors. Be practical but be responsible. There is seldom a need for thermo-imaging security cameras and license plate readers to be placed in every area of your property. Stick to security best practices for camera placement as previously referenced.
  • Consult internal key stakeholders when determining your video surveillance needs and applications: IT, risk management, security, HR, safety, facilities, etc. Decide collectively what will best suit your operational camera and recording needs: analog, digital, IP based, Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ), etc.
  • Consider proper levels of illumination to support your video technology. A camera and its captured fields of surveillance are only as good as their sources of light.
  • Ensure all equipment is functional and operational at all times. If it comes to light, a lapse in video surveillance or malfunctioning equipment could provide the foundation for a strong negligent security lawsuit.
  • Archive all captured images for a minimum of 2 weeks-30 days.
  • Limit viewing access of camera images to essential personnel, and restrict access of all recording equipment to only a few select authorized persons.
  • Maintain a consistent preventative maintenance program for your surveillance equipment. A documented program of technology upkeep could become valuable information if the systems reliability is ever questioned.
  • Obstruct camera angles to passerby’s and take steps to protect all cameras from acts of vandalism and/or tampering.

Whatever You Do, Don’t…

  • No dummy or fake cameras; you’re only asking for trouble. If the location warrants the placement of a “dummy” camera then it warrants the investment of real video surveillance. You don’t want to create that  “false sense of security.”
  • Avoid not actively monitoring cameras placed in public parking, gym, swimming, and playground locations. If not monitored, conspicuous signage should be placed within these areas indicating that the cameras are for recording and investigative purposes only and not monitored.
  • Do not place cameras in locations where people would naturally assume some level of privacy, such as restrooms, hotel rooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, etc.
  • Do not use covert camera “nanny cams” unless specifically authorized to do so by the owner/occupier of the space, legal counsel and/or HR and law enforcement if applicable.
  • Again, Do Not think of video surveillance as a single-source solution. Its true power and value can only be effectively leveraged when coupled with other forms of security risk management best practices and technology.

From London to New York, from the subway to the gas station, we now live in a post 9/11 world where our movements throughout virtually every public space may be captured at one point or another by some form of video surveillance. While this may have become the new societal norm in our ever changing landscape of security risk management one thing remains constant; your tenants, patrons, employees, visitors and the courts will always be watching you; wondering and hoping that you are taking “reasonable” steps to provide adequate security and ensure the protection of your property and those who occupy it.

About Kevin Wilkes

Kevin is Vice President and Risk Control / Security Practice Leader in Willis' Risk Control & Claim Advocacy pr…
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