Video Surveillance of Office Interior-Is It Legal?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post that discussed the legality of recording incoming and outgoing telephone calls made to and from an agency.   The recording of such calls is legal if the requirements discussed in my post are satisfied.  I recently received a question from an IIAG member on the Free Legal Service Program that I operate for such members about the legality of installing video cameras inside an agency office that would record the activities and conversations of all persons who enter the office.   This post will only address the legality of recording the activities of such persons, as the rules for audio recording in this situation are more complex.

Georgia law imposes a general prohibition on the recording of the activities of persons that occur in a “private place and out of public view.”  As with the recording of private conversations, Georgia law does contain a consent exception to this general prohibition.   However, unlike the recording of private conversations, Georgia law requires the consent of all the persons whose activities are being recorded, not just one party to them.  But there is an exception to this consent requirement that is not applicable to the recording of private conversations, which exception will be discussed below.

Before discussing that exception, the basic question of whether the prohibition on the recording of a person’s activities without their consent applies in an office setting should be addressed.  The answer to that question depends on whether an office is considered a “private place.”  As noted above, Georgia law only prohibits the recording of the activities of a person without their consent that occur in a “private place and out of public view.”  Unfortunately,  the applicable statute does not provide much help in determining what constitutes a “private place”.  It defines such a place as a “place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”  Thus, what places are protected by this prohibition will ultimately be left up to a judge and/or jury to determine based on their reasonable expectations.

However, I think it is safe to say the reception area of an agency’s office is not a private place because it can be accessed at any time by anyone who is passing by the office.   I think it is also safe to say walled off spaces in an office that are accessible only through a doorway and especially, bathrooms would generally be considered private places.  Whether interior hallways or break rooms in an office are public or private places is a more difficult question and would depend on the particular circumstances of each agency’s office set up and employee culture.

The additional exception referred to above probably eliminates any need to make the difficult determination of what areas of an office are private places.  That exception permits “an owner or occupier of real property” to make recordings “for security purposes, crime prevention, or crime detection” of the activities of “persons who are on the property.”  The exception ends with a reference to “areas where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.”  It is unclear whether this language refers only to “approaches” to the property in question, which are also included in the exception.   If that language applies to the property itself, there is no real exception to the general prohibition; because that prohibition only applies to areas where such an expectation of privacy exists.  For that reason, I think this language does not apply to the property in question, only to approaches to it.

So, the answer to the question posed in the title to this post is Yes.  Video surveillance of the activities of persons in an agency or other office without first obtaining their consent is legal.  However, as a practical matter, if an agency owner decides to install video recording devices in the agency’s office, I suggest that fact be made known to both the agency’s employees and all who enter its office.  The potential adverse reaction of customers, especially, to finding out from another source that their activities were being recorded while in the agency’s office would likely outweigh any benefit the agency may derive from doing so.

 

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