The Hidden Camera
Hidden cameras and other surveillance missteps can sour employees, threaten your success or get you sued.
By Todd Datz
September 01, 2005 — CSO —
That's what caught the new employee's attentionwater dripping from the ceiling of her office. Why was water leaking from the ceiling, she wondered? Taking a closer look, she didn't find the source of the leak. Much to her surprise, what she did find was a hidden camera.
The company shouldn't have been too surprised when she filed a complaint.
That juicy (in a Court TV kind of way) incident took place a couple of years ago, recounts an attorney whose firm defended the company after the woman filed a wrongful termination lawsuit (the complaint was raised as part of the suit; the attorney asked to remain anonymous). Why was a camera secreted in the ceiling? Turns out that the company, with the blessing of the HR director, had installed a camera in that particular office to deter a worker suspected of stealing. It was a nonworking (fake) camera and, originally, plainly visible. After that employee resigned, the company remodeled the office, covering (but not removing) the camera.
Ultimately, the company argued that it was a nonworking camera; the suit was dismissed on other grounds. "If the hidden camera had been working, it might have been a different outcome," says the attorney.
CSOs have a lot of leeway when it comes to monitoring employees. After all, companies own the computers, telephones and electronic equipment their workers use, and have the well-established right to monitor their usage. The same is true for video surveillance—the legal system gives organizations the right to place cameras in every nook and cranny of their workplaces, with the exception of areas where employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy (bathrooms and locker rooms, for example).
But many companies don't actually have a written policy in the employee handbook stating that the company has the right to freely monitor the workplace. In research conducted for this special report, 44 percent of respondents copped to having no official video surveillance policy (see additional results from the "CSO Surveillance and Monitoring Survey" on Page 28). And if companies aren't spelling out their surveillance posture now, then the picture promises more static than clarity in the near future. Digital, IP-based video systems are beginning to make a dent in the old-line hegemony of CCTV systems, and cameras are getting ever smaller, cheaper and more powerful. Inattentive CSOs are sitting on ever more threatening legal landmines.
On the bright side, a little forethought can largely defuse those dangers. "It's not rocket science," says Miles Bielec, director of security operations at software giant SAS. "Security, in my view, is rooted solely in common sense." Below are six tips—some dos and don'ts that are indeed mostly common sense—that can help you navigate the current world of video surveillance and prepare for its rapid evolution, while avoiding any of the boneheaded moves (like, say, an ill-considered hidden camera) that can undo in a heartbeat all the goodwill you've spent years building up.