Like many states, video surveillance laws in Ohio need to be interpreted through its wiretapping statutes (Oh. Rev. Code 2933.51-2). Specifically, any unauthorized interception of an “oral communication” is prohibited. While there is no specific law against video surveillance, its usage as a means to intercept an “oral communication” (e.g. video recording at close range with an audio track) may be prosecutable as a criminal offense.
One Party Vs. All Party Consent
In several states (e.g. California), taping a conversation where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy is prohibited without the prior consent and knowledge of all parties. On the other hand, in states such as Ohio, recording is legal as long as one party consents to the surveillance and does not intend to use the footage to commit a criminal offense or other injurious act (Oh. Rev. Code 2933.52, Sec. B-4). However, in public places such as government buildings, shopping centers or banks, overt or covert video surveillance is completely legal without regard to consent.
Penalties for Unauthorized Surveillance
Whoever violates the Ohio wiretapping statute may be charged with a fourth-degree felony (Ohio Rev. Code 2933.52, Sec. C). If found guilty, the offender can face from six to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Generally, the minimum term of six months will be handed down unless the offender has previously served time in prison or if “the court finds that the shortest prison term will demean the seriousness of the offender’s conduct or will not adequately protect the public from future crime by the offender or others” (Oh. Rev. Code 2929.14, Sec. B).
Exceptions to The Law
Ohio video surveillance laws do not apply to certain people in certain situations. For example, the law does not apply to surveillance conducted by a law enforcement agent who has been granted an applicable interception warrant from a state or federal judge. It also does not apply to a provider of communication services when used “for mechanical or service quality control checks” (Oh. Rev. Code 2933.52, Sec. B-2). In other words, an Internet company that provides webcam services between users is exempt if the surveillance is used to monitor the quality of its transmissions. Video surveillance is also allowable in police, fire and communications systems as long as the footage is used for administrative purposes only and that at least one “facility” (i.e. location in the building) is not subject to electronic monitoring. (Oh. Rev. Code 2933.52, Sec. B-8).
Noel Lawrence has written on cultural affairs and cinema for Release Print and OtherZine since 2000. He holds a graduate degree in Russian literature from Stanford University and currently lives in Los Angeles.