Video Surveillance Laws in Ohio

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Video surveillance is a complex issue, balancing national and personal protection rights against an individual's right to privacy. It has been on the increase in the United States since terrorist attacks took out the World Trade Centers, but it is not as invasive to individual privacy rights as in many other countries. Since the right to privacy from unauthorized videotaping is not addressed in the U.S. Constitution, each state has the right to make their own laws regarding it. Some state laws specifically protect an individual's right to privacy in private areas, but others, like Ohio's, do not.

State Laws on Video Surveillance Systems

Even if a person pores over the federal laws for hours, they are not going to find any that specifically forbid the use of video surveillance cameras in public, at job sites or, for that matter, anywhere else. Given the lack of federal guidance, video surveillance laws are left to the states, and the resulting state laws vary greatly.

Most individuals understand that video surveillance, despite being invasive, keeps down crime in public places like parking garages, tunnels and elevators. Studies show that cameras in public places have a marked impact on crime levels, and most states sanction this kind of surveillance.

A few states, like New York and California, make it a crime to take videos in any location where an individual has a reasonable expectation of complete privacy, like changing rooms in a gym, hotel rooms and bedrooms. And a few other states, like Delaware and Connecticut, require businesses to notify their workers and customers if video cameras in the establishment take images where people might have an expectation of privacy. But a public notice is all that is required – once the notice is posted in a business, an individual’s right to privacy is forfeited.

Surveillance and the Fourth Amendment

Since surveillance videos are strong evidence in courts of law, an argument can be made that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies in some cases. This is the Amendment guarding individuals from unreasonable or unwarranted searches and seizures; it requires search warrants to determine whether there is probable cause for this invasion of individual rights.

Generally however, the things that people do in public are not subject to Fourth Amendment protections. When someone acts in public or deliberately exposes information to the public, Fourth Amendment protections do not apply, but state laws may offer the individual additional privacy rights.

Ohio Laws on Intercepting Communications

Ohio is one state that has no laws that directly address video surveillance. However, they do have laws about wiretapping and attempts to "intercept a wire, oral or electronic communication." Under Ohio Revised Code Section 2933.51, the wiretapping statute, all unauthorized interceptions of these communications are prohibited. This is the statute that might apply in cases where video surveillance is used to intercept communications.

This crime is called interception of wire, oral or electronic communications. It makes it a crime not just to do the interception, but also to use any such intercepted communication knowing it was illegally obtained. Even simply attempting to purchase materials to intercept communications can be a crime. Anyone found to be violating the statute can be charged with a state felony of the fourth degree.

Ohio Interception Law Exceptions

The exceptions to this law tend to undercut its effectiveness in protecting individual privacy – the list of exceptions is far longer than the law itself. Some are obvious, like the fact that interceptions are not illegal if they are done pursuant to a warrant. Likewise, there is an exemption for internet companies that provide webcam services between users if the purpose of the surveillance is to monitor the quality of the company's transmissions.

Other exceptions are less obvious. For example, many types of interceptions are permitted if done by, or with, the consent of a party to the communication. While states like California make it illegal for anyone, including a participant, to record a conversation where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy is prohibited, Ohio's laws are very different.

The same Ohio code section that prohibits unauthorized interceptions of conversations makes an exception when either party to the conversation is the one doing the recording. Another exception is made for a law enforcement agent if they are a party to the communication or if one of the parties consents to the recording even if they don't inform the other.

Hidden Security Cameras in Ohio

Like many states, Ohio has no laws that directly address where hidden cameras can be placed. Video recording in private places is permitted if the person being filmed consents to the surveillance. But consent need not be affirmative. All that is required in Ohio to give consent is to willingly enter a location where signs are posted stating that surveillance is taking place. However, unauthorized video surveillance for malicious or unlawful purposes is prohibited.

Video Surveillance Equipment in Nursing Homes

The one, specific bill about video surveillance in Ohio statutes is termed Esther's Law. It allows patients in Ohio's long-term care facilities to have cameras installed in their rooms. The purpose of the law was very specific: to end the problem of elder abuse and neglect in nursing homes across the state.

Esther's law is named for Esther Piskor, an Ohio resident who was a victim of elder abuse at a state nursing home. Her son was concerned about unexplained bruises and placed a hidden camera in his mother’s room. He discovered abuse almost immediately and, thanks to the video, two nursing home aides were indicted, convicted and sent to jail. Others were fired and still others were disciplined.

The terms of the law require that the nursing home resident’s family pay for the installation and, ultimately, the removal of the recording device. They also must obtain the consent of the person's roommate, if one is present. The law also prohibits discrimination or retaliation against those who use cameras.