No, this is not an episode of "Black Mirror." Yes, there are actually surveillance cameras in dressing rooms, and yes, it's all perfectly legal. Or, at least, it's legal depending on the state in which that dressing room resides. Take a look at what's on the books in your state when it comes to the legality of sticking a camera in the dressing room and think twice before you put on a personal fashion show with that stack of cardigans.
Why Are There Cameras Here?
In the one place you thought was guaranteed to be private, you may ask yourself, "why are there cameras in fitting rooms?"
For most businesses, it boils down to one word: Shrinkage (and, no, not the "Seinfeld" kind of shrinkage). Shrinkage refers to the loss of retail inventory on account of external and internal theft (plus other stock errors), and it accounted for nearly $100 billion in worldwide retail loss in 2017, according to data from Tyco Retail Solutions' Sensormatic Global Shrink Index. As camera tech continues to get smaller and less conspicuous, retailers see cameras in the dressing room – a prime spot for swapping tags, layering stolen clothes under your outfit or stashing items in pockets or bags – as yet another means for effective loss prevention.
Read More: Where Can You Legally Install Security Cameras on Private Property?
Cameras and Fitting Room Laws
Whether it's legal to place a camera in the dressing room all depends on the state. Unfortunately for the shy among us, it's easier to dive in to states with laws that actually prohibit dressing room surveillance without the express permission of the shopper. Those 13 states are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Utah.
However, all states do share some dressing room surveillance legality in common. Most importantly, video surveillance in areas such as dressing rooms and restrooms is uniformly illegal for any purpose other than the prevention of theft, which is a law that intends to protect shoppers from voyeurism, invasions of privacy or sexual exploitation. These protections are legislated on a federal level via the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act, which clearly states that anyone who has "the intent to capture an image of a private area of an individual without their consent, and knowingly does so under circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."
More to Know
Just as only some states prohibit dressing room recording, state laws regarding such surveillance vary. In some states, only real-time surveillance is allowed, while other states allow business owners to record fitting room footage.
Here's some more good news: If you're uncomfortable with the notion of dressing room cameras, most states enforce informed consent laws. This means that dressing room cameras are allowed, but it is legally required to inform those entering the area of the presence of monitoring equipment, usually by way of conspicuous signage. So, keep an eye out before you try on those six new crop tops.
In an informal 2015 survey, Raycom Media and 14NEWS of Evansville, Indiana – a state where dressing room surveillance is legal – found that many stores do not use surveillance cameras in fitting rooms. Some of the chains that do not include Charlotte Russe, Dillard's, The Gap, Macy's, Old Navy and Victoria's Secret.
In the unfortunate case that you suspect illegal surveillance in dressing rooms or other private areas, contact your lawyer as soon as possible. Typically, personal injury lawyers are well equipped for this sort of case, or even just for providing some much-needed counsel on the surveillance laws specific to your region.
As of 2018, more than 35 states legally allow the presence of security cameras in dressing rooms.
As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.