The Legalities of Surveillance: What You Need to Know

Surveillance can be beneficial to you while still protecting everyone's right to privacy. If done right surveillance, shouldn't cross any lines.

By Carla Rodriguez | Oct. 10, 2023 | 6 min. read

Why It Matters:


Surveillance has become an integral part of our lives. Whether it’s the security cameras at our workplace, the smartphone in our pocket, or the webcams in our laptops, we are constantly being watched. That may be a frightening realization but mostly this surveillance is for safety reasons and not something to worry about. While surveillance technology has undoubtedly enhanced our safety and convenience, it has also raised critical questions about privacy and legality.

It’s important that any investigation services you are using follow strict privacy rules. Especially if this information will one day end up in litigation and could make or break a case. Make sure that the information you are finding is being done so in a professional, scrupulous manner. It’s pointless to base a case on a clever finding if once it gets to court it is invalidated.


Legalities of Surveillance:


1. The Fourth Amendment and Privacy Rights:

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. This includes the prohibition of unwarranted surveillance by the government. Generally, law enforcement agencies must obtain a search warrant based on probable cause before conducting surveillance on individuals. However, there are exceptions in cases of national security or imminent threats.

There is less risk associated with unmanned surveillance than with a physical investigator due to a decrease in variables from risk exposure.

2. Private Surveillance:

When it comes to private surveillance, such as security cameras in malls, stores, or private residences, the rules differ. Private entities generally have the right to install surveillance cameras on their premises as long as they do not invade individuals’ reasonable expectations of privacy, like restrooms or changing rooms. It’s crucial to understand that if you are on someone else’s property, you may be under surveillance, so always be aware of your surroundings.

To avoid any issues with trespassing, be careful to never place a camera on someone’s private property without permission.

3. Consent is Key:

One of the critical factors in the legalities of surveillance is consent. In many jurisdictions, it’s illegal to record audio or video without the informed consent of all parties involved. This means that if you plan to record conversations or activities, you should ensure everyone present is aware and consents to being recorded.

While tools like pretexting can get information out of someone who would not have otherwise provided it there are restrictions to this. An investigator cannot obtain protected information without consent

4. Workplace Surveillance:

Employers often use surveillance to monitor employees for security and productivity reasons. While some workplace surveillance is legal and necessary, there are limits. Employees usually have the right to be informed about surveillance policies, and these policies must be reasonable and not overly intrusive.

California, Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina: All of these states’ constitutions explicitly state that residents have a right to privacy. As such, employers in these states may need to tread carefully when setting up employee monitoring systems.

5. Electronic Communications:

Surveillance can extend to our digital lives. Governments and law enforcement agencies often seek access to electronic communications, such as emails and text messages, during criminal investigations. However, this is subject to legal constraints, and privacy laws may vary depending on the country. For example, there is no method to obtain access to a person’s private social media account, but court can order it to be opened. Any other methods would be considered hacking, and thus quite frowned upon.

6. Public vs. Private Spaces:

A significant distinction in surveillance legality is whether it occurs in public or private spaces. In public spaces, such as streets and parks, the expectation of privacy is generally lower. This is why security cameras are prevalent in public areas. In contrast, surveillance in private spaces, like your home, is subject to stricter regulations.

If the camera were to document an individual inside their home, it would violate the individual’s privacy.

7. The Role of Technology:

Rapid advancements in surveillance technology, such as facial recognition and drones, have sparked debates about privacy. Some jurisdictions have implemented restrictions on these technologies to protect individual rights.

The simple truth is that older methods of fraud detection are becoming more outdated purely because the people committing fraud are also using newer, more sophisticated, and more digital methods to execute their crimes. Therefore, those who are investigating fraud need to advance their technology.


Surveillance Done Right:


A leading claims adjuster company was struggling with a particularly troublesome claimant with a supposed lower back injury. Sensing fraud, they enlisted a full suite surveillance service to uncover contrary evidence to the claimants injury.

Here’s what they found:

  1. To have a better understanding of the claimant’s life before and after the incident they decided to start with an internet mining investigation. Through a series of web searches and most popular social media sites, it was learned the claimant had an interest in motorcycles.
  2. Armed with knowledge of the claimant’s hobby, surveillance of the claimants residence was initiated. As a result, documentation of the claimant traveling to a restaurant with family and friends. Nothing suspicious yet.
  3. Further surveillance efforts were initiated and true to form, the claimant was observed and videotaped displaying a full range of motion while working on vehicles including a motorcycle, at the front yard of his residence.
  4. Surveillance was continued and the claimant was observed not only working on and riding a motorcycle with a supposed low back injury but proceeding to a residence where he climbed a ladder and worked on a roofing project.

Bottom Line:


In this case, internet mining uncovered a conflicting hobby while field investigators finished the drill through further inspection. Their surveillance obtained two hours of video of the claimant riding a motorcycle, performing vehicle maintenance and working on a roof.

In an age of constant surveillance, it’s crucial to understand the legalities surrounding it. While surveillance can enhance security and convenience, it should not infringe upon anyone’s fundamental right to privacy. In some cases, claimants will carelessly and publicly contradict themselves through their actions. With the right tools you can be there so situations like these don’t go undocumented. Always keep you and your team informed about the legal framework governing surveillance in your jurisdiction. Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to doing things right in the digital age.