Is IR Video Surveillance Legal In Movie Theaters?

Went to see a bad movie. Trying to remain conscious, I scoped out the theatre and noticed several rather large IR illuminators in the corners of the room, by their faint red glow.

On the one hand it makes a lot of sense for staff to be able to check out what is happening in the seats, since it gives them a chance to react to troublemakers and vandalizers etc.

On the other hand, I would think that most people in the theatre don't imagine that they are being monitored 'in the dark'. So they have some limited 'expectation of privacy', no?

What do you need privacy for in a movie theater? Probably not much, unless you're a couple of teenagers on a date. Then again, maybe you might want to pick your nose or teeth or fix a wardrobe malfunction...

Any potentially embarrassing thing you might do 'in the dark' could make you the target of backroom employee mockery.

No big deal, but purely on technical grounds could this be challenged on privacy grounds?


From my perspective, a movie theatre, despite being dark, is a very public place. Depending upon the movie, there are anywhere from a dozen to a couple of hundred people there. IMHO, there is no expectation of privacy, percieved or otherwise. Given what has been happening at theatres of late and our very real expectation of safety, I don't think I am unreasonable. Just because the lights are dimmed to allow a better visual experience, does not entitle a person to any "extra" privileges. If one wants to pick something or adjust something, do what you might do in any other public venue; excuse yourself and head off to the lavatory.

IMHO, there is no expectation of privacy, percieved or otherwise.

Why is that?

Do you think most are aware of being monitored even in total darkness?

Maybe they could run a little cutsie announcement, after the one about turning off your cell phone, informing about the presence of IR monitoring.

Heck, why not just show a live IR picture for 5 seconds or so? That's a warning hard to miss...

Most walk down the street in near darkness and are unaware of being monitored with video. It is a public thoroughfare. The Supreme Court has ruled on this years ago. Unless there is a reasonable expectation of privacy (and I think we all know what that means), bathrooms, changing rooms etc, your home, there is no expectation of privacy. When you buy a ticket to a public venue, you are agreeing to abide by their rules. It says so right on the back of the ticket. The lighting is incidental. When the lights come back up, do your expectations differ? I agree that signage should be posted. We always encourage our customers to do so, and we furnish the signs if necessary. I went to a Temptations concert last month. The lights dimmed to enrich the viewing experience. The rules and expectations don't change. If I dropped my trousers for whatever reason, they have every right to ask me to leave, and they should.

I couldn't find any examples of where this has been a practical issue. Your turn to google. Maybe there is something out there but it does not seem like many either know and/or care.

Some people actually care, I am only interested academically as to where and why the line gets drawn. This is a good case of something very close to the line.

Going to the movies prepare to be watched while you watch.

BTW, apparently the main reason for the IR is the ability to detect smartphone recording of movies.

One link from 2010 underscores my point that it is not something many people either know and/or care much about.

Once people end the morning period for Cecil the lion, you should try to get them energized about this!

Once people end the morning period for Cecil the lion, you should try to get them energized about this!

That's not gonna happen anytime soon, Cecil's brother Jericho was discovered today, also shot dead...

BTW, my point wasn't that this was something that a lot of people know about, just the opposite. If people know about it, then they don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy, problem solved.

As for whether people care when they do find out? Sure, some do and will.

Fox News ran this clip all the way back in 2012, yet it is still (marginally) relevant today:

Are you being watched in the movie theater?

Interesting clip. They admit it is not illegal but that they need to tell that the cameras are there, though not clear on what legal basis, they need to tell.

All is interesting speculation however, I suspect that what 'undisclosed 1' saw in the corner of the theater with the 'red glow' was not an IR for video camera but the IR from a 'Hearing Assistance' transmitter which is required in many states for public auditoriums to meet ADA requirements.

Good call Dick, I think you might be right. This below looks a lot like the device that I saw. Its a hearing assistance transmitter.

On the other hand, I also saw several mini-domes, in the walls. I would have to imagine that they were illuminated also, possibly with invisible longer wavelenth IR.

Curious, wouldn't these devices complicate the piracy battle, by allowing someone to record a digital audio track also?

Working in a state-run university, I've been told to post signs on building doors where cameras are installed stating video monitoring in this area.

I have seen IR cameras and TV monitors backstage in a local stage theater so the lighting guys can see when the stage hands are off stage before bringing up the lights. I don't recall seeing any signs about cameras on property.

The Theater also had large IR emmitters for their assistive listening devices that covered the audiance seats.

Same requirement Michael, whether it be motion picture theater, live theater or Town Hall meeting room etc, etc.

Where is it a 'requirement' to post signs? Recommended, sure. Legal requirement though?

Edit: I mean in the US specifically.

Sorry for any confusion John, I wasn't referring to a 'requirement' for signage but for having 'hearing assistance' equipment in public venues such as cinema houses, live theater audtioriums, and public meeting halls. A little off original topic but was trying to explain the IR emitters that Disclosed 1 originally saw in a theater. I doubt it was camera IR's, however, it started an interesting conversation of using cameras in theaters to monitor the public viewing audience.

The only requirement we have in Canada is that as long as there is a sign at the entrance of the Building stating this area is under video surveillance, they don't need to say where, we see it mostly to fight the copying of new release by any camera, the IR Illuminator is usually not required as the covert camera will normally see the small IR light indicating a camera is recording. Perhaps the IR Illuminator will help ID the offender, in that case a Warning would be warranted as IR Illuminators can damaged the Cornea and Retina and may put the Theatre in a liability position as most people look up at the screen during the movie and expose their eyes directly to the IR light from the illuminator. This was be easily achieve by using and inexpensive B&W Camera that would immidiately see if a person would try to record with a camera, the theatre personel would enter the screening room and escort the individual out of the theatre and security would issue a Ban from the establishment and request the video footage or contact the Police for further action. It was a regular problem about 10 years ago, but the problem appears to have subsided as several had been charged by the Police and Legal Action was taken by the Motion Picture Association to protect their copyrighted movies. Haven't seen any IR Illuminators installed inside the screening rooms in the lower mainland of BC

Jean-Pierre, that makes sense in Canada where there are real privacy laws (similar to the UK and most of the EU).

In the US, we do not have anything like that.

Reference: International Video Surveillance Laws / Regulations

It’s possible that those large IR illuminators were part of an IR-based listening assist system, which distributes program audio to hearing-impaired theater patrons. Those patrons would be equipped with an IR headset, which converts & delivers audio to the wearer.

Yes, the so-called 'Dick Green' theory. I'm a believer myself. :)

I have personally installed IR Illuminators and megapixel cameras above the screens in a local movie theater chain. This was also after the Colorado theater incident and they were a little on edge. They also wanted to be able to detect cell phone users. The other main use was that this theater served alcohal and they wanted to make sure their servers were checking ID's and only serving people of legal age, as well as keeping an eye on the patrons and making sure no one is disrupting the theater experience.