State laws regarding video surveillance have to be consistent with the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Under the amendment, people cannot be surveilled without their consent in places where they have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” such as within their homes or hotel rooms, in bathrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms, in doctor’s or lawyer’s offices, or when speaking with a therapist or minister. However, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy when a person is on public roadways or in areas where the public is generally present, such as malls, stores, offices, or on public transit. People can be surveilled in these places without their knowledge or consent.
States take two approaches to laws regarding video surveillance. A small group of states such as Alabama, Utah, and Minnesota prohibit video surveillance or the use of hidden cameras in all places where someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, most states permit video surveillance in private places if the person being filmed consents to the surveillance. Generally, all that is required to give consent is to enter a willingly enter a place where signs are posted stating that surveillance is taking place. However, in all 50 states, unauthorized video surveillance for “malicious” or “unlawful” purposes is prohibited and in most states is a felony if it is done for purposes of sexual gratification—so-called “peeping tom” laws.
Homeowners are also permitted to use video surveillance systems to film their own property without requiring consent from those entering their homes. And there is no prohibition on employers using cameras to surveil their employees—the exception being that they can’t video or record employees engaged in union organizing activities, since that is a violation of federal labor laws.