Video surveillance can be extremely useful but also very invasive. Laws regulating video surveillance differ greatly from state to state, with some states leaning toward protecting the public's right to know, while others lean toward protecting individual privacy rights. Many states, including Missouri, fall somewhere in the middle.
Regulation of Video Surveillance
The federal government has not enacted laws explicitly prohibiting video surveillance in public, in the workplace or anywhere else. The Federal Wiretapping/Electronic Communications Privacy Act might be said to apply to workplace surveillance, but the lack of specificity leaves day-to-day video surveillance regulation in the workplace up to the states.
Given this, it is little wonder that states are all over the map when it comes to regulating the practice. Sometimes known as CCTV, or closed-circuit television, video surveillance is used for security purposes both in private and public areas.
Levels of State Regulation
States like California and New York focus on privacy protections, prohibiting video cameras anywhere an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. These include:
- Lockers and changing rooms.
- Anywhere inside hotel rooms.
- All public and private bathrooms.
- Any other places where a person may get undressed.
Other states, like Delaware and Connecticut, require that businesses notify their workers and customers if they install video cameras on the property that may break the expectation of privacy, like in a bathroom or a changing room. If an individual enters a space that has a posted public notice of this, their privacy rights are forfeited.
Most states allow video surveillance with some exceptions and limitations. Missouri is one of these states. It generally allows businesses and residential facilities to place video cameras in public locations, but limits the locations.
Missouri Regulation of Video Surveillance
Missouri laws about video surveillance attempt to balance the privacy of individuals while still allowing businesses the flexibility to prosecute cases of vandalism and theft. That is, state laws do not forbid video surveillance by any means, yet the state does regulate and limit the locations and circumstances of video recording.
In fact, improper video surveillance in Missouri, defined as video surveillance that the state does not permit, is punishable as illegal wiretapping if it involves the interception of oral communication.
Reasonable Privacy Expectations
Like many states, Missouri draws the line between permissible and impermissible video surveillance at the point where there exists a reasonable expectation of privacy. While nobody can reasonably expect privacy walking down a public street, there are places in a home where people expect to be protected.
Even a property owner must respect these privacy rights. They are not permitted to place a video recording device in a location in their home where residents or guests have a reasonable expectation of privacy. And recording someone inside a home through curtains, for example, is not permitted.
Missouri Public Places and Privacy
Very few people have an expectation of privacy in public areas like stores, city parks or government buildings. And if someone did have such an expectation, Missouri would deem it unreasonable.
Therefore, in Missouri, video surveillance is legal in public areas and, in fact, fairly widespread, especially in urban areas. Residents of Missouri must accept these realities of video surveillance, and the state emphasizes its positive impact on crime levels. This is particularly true when the video cameras are set up in high-crime areas like tunnels, stairways, elevators and parking garages.
Criminal Prosecution for Violation
Anyone who uses video surveillance equipment in Missouri in locations where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy may be charged with invasion of privacy under Missouri Revised Statutes Section 565.252. This can happen in two different circumstances:
- When the videotape creates an image of another person, without the person's consent, while the person is in a state of full or partial nudity and is in a place where one would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
- When the videotape creates an image of another person under or through the clothing worn by that other person for the purpose of viewing the body of or the undergarments worn by that other person without that person's consent.
Invasion of privacy is a class A misdemeanor or a Class E felony. This depends on the circumstances, including whether the images were diffused to the internet. A second conviction of the same crime, when the first offense was classified as a misdemeanor, is prosecuted as a Class D felony. A second felony invasion of privacy offense is prosecuted as a Class C felony.
Missouri Audio Recording Laws
Well before video cameras were used in stores to deter shoplifting and on street corners as a disincentive to crime, people were recording each other's conversations. This is termed audio surveillance. In some states it is illegal unless both parties to the conversation are aware of the recording and have consented to it.
In Missouri, a recording of an audio conversation is legal as long as at least one person involved in the recorded communication has given their permission to the recording. On the other hand, it is illegal to record a phone conversation of two people if neither of them know of or have not agreed to the recording. It is also illegal to record any conversation with a criminal end in mind, like blackmail.
The secret recording by an audio capture device is classified as illegal wiretapping under Missouri state law. The crime is defined as a felony in Missouri Revised Statutes Sections 542.402. It also opens the perpetrator up to a suit for civil damages brought by the victim or victims.
Wiretapping in Missouri
While wiretapping is legal in some cases by law enforcement agencies as part of a criminal investigation, even law enforcement must first be given permission to record by the courts. This type of covert surveillance is permitted when conducted by the police in order to acquire evidence in undercover investigations or when necessary to protect law enforcement officers in these investigations.
Note that the definition of wiretapping in Missouri statutes generally refers to the interception of wire or oral communications such as the usage of an unauthorized phone tap. However, video surveillance may be included in the term if the device used for video surveillance also records an audio track. That will depend on how closely the people are videoed and whether their conversations are audible.
For individuals who are not members of law enforcement, these considerations should come into play before any audio or video recording is undertaken in Missouri. The take away is that it is a crime to record someone using a video and/or audio capture device without permission or in a place where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.