Court Strikes Down Bathroom Cameras

By: Carlton Purvis, Published on Jun 13, 2013

Sex offenders were being monitored inside bathrooms by surveillance cameras. The facility was concerned that patients had been attacking each other and wanted to stop this. However, some patients complained and took the facility to court. Now, an appeals court has affirmed a ruling (see full legal document) that ordered this facility to turn off those cameras and the facility has settled. In this note, we break down the legal and operational issues, concluding with an analysis of what this means.

The Facility

The Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders is an Iowa long-term care facility for those who have completed their prison time, but the state has determined are likely to reoffend. According to The Chronicle Times, the CCUSO turned off cameras as part of a settlement with three residents who asked a court to force the facility to turn them off. The settlement came shortly after an appeals court determined that cameras in bathrooms were a violation of residents’ privacy.

Background

The facility had cameras in bathrooms since 2009. The first cameras went online after one patient attacked another in a bathroom and a separate incident where a patient “with a communicable disease” had sex with another patient without disclosing “his health status.”

CCUSO considered adding locks to bathroom doors but wanted to keep residents from locking themselves inside and to reduce delay in case of an emergency. It put up cameras instead. The cameras were “masked” to keep viewers from seeing “private areas of the body,” and footage was stored for 21 days. Operators did not have the permission to “unmask” the images.

Here is a diagram created by the plaintiffs of the camera locations in one of the bathrooms:

The Case

Three residents of the facility asked a court for an injunction that would bar the facility from having cameras in its bathrooms (full complaint here). The residents argued that it violated their privacy and interfered with their treatment by subjecting them to humiliation that reminded them of past abuse.

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

In April 2012, a judge granted a preliminary injunction saying the cameras could stay on while the case made its way through the courts, but barred anyone from monitoring or viewing footage without a court order.

The very next month, the facility filed a request to view video from its system and found that two people had gone into a the bathroom together. One said later that a sexual assault had occurred.

Even so, a judge granted an injunction barring the facility from operating cameras in the single-person bathrooms, but not dorm-style bathrooms.

The Appeal

The facility appealed saying that the cameras were there to protect the safety of the residents, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction agreeing the cameras were a violation of resident privacy and were likely to be counter-productive to treatment if some of the residents were victims of sexual abuse in the past.

The facility said it wanted cameras to prevent future assaults and the court agreed that cameras could work as a deterrent. However, because they did not have any kind of alerts and were not monitored live, they would not be of any use except for after an assault happened, the court said:

"Although unmonitored cameras may sometimes deter illicit behavior and help with investigations, they do not provide the administrators with immediate alerts concerning patient safety or directly prevent assaults or dangerous acts. They are instead an after-the-fact investigative tool: By the time the video is viewed, the harm has already happened."

The appeals court said for these reasons mentioned above, if the case went further, the facility was likely to lose which would mean a shutdown of all of the cameras.

The facility settled the case with the residents on May 14, 2013. In the settlement it agreed to remove all of the cameras and to pay all of the residents’ legal fees ($22,000).

UPDATE: Iowa Department of Human Services spokesperson Roger Munns has confirmed the cameras are no longer in use and released the following statement: "The Iowa Department of Human Services has no comment on the court settlement. The Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders no longer uses monitoring cameras in bathrooms at the facility. A separate monitoring procedure has been put in place to protect patients."

Munns says he is not at liberty to say what the new procedure is because he "cannot disclose internal procedures of a secure facility." 

IPVM Analysis 

In this case, the court noted that the cameras did not serve a purpose in preventing violence because they did not have a way to alert facility administrators and were not monitored, however it did not say whether adding alerts or live monitoring would have changed the outcome.

Nationally, legislation is mixed on whether having a camera in a private place constitutes a privacy violation. Some factors that can impact this are whether the camera is monitored and the purpose of the camera. There are only 13 states that ban cameras in private places like bathrooms and dressing rooms. However, many other states have other surveillance-related laws that would apply. Cameras in places where there is an expectation of privacy are at the least socially unacceptable. In the United Kingdom however, the practice seems to be more tolerated. According to CCTV data obtained by Big Brother Watch, the islands have more than 825 cameras in school bathrooms and changing rooms alone.

This court did leave open the possibility of allowing cameras in bathroom but they would have to show that they directly and significantly reduced the problem at hand. Short of that, this shows the privacy even of convicted sex offenders will be protected.

Comments (2) : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Security Integrators Outlook On Remaining Integrators In 2025 on Aug 22, 2019
The industry has changed substantially in the last decade, with the rise of IP cameras and the race to the bottom. Indeed, more changes may be...
Biometrics Usage Statistics 2019 on Aug 13, 2019
Biometrics are commonly used in phones, but how frequently are they used for access? 150+ integrators told us how often they use biometrics,...
Proactive CCTV "Only Affordable Video Archiving Solution" Profile on Aug 12, 2019
Proactive CCTV is claiming to offer "the only affordable video archiving solution on the market", reducing the storage typically required for H.265...
Milestone "GDPR-ready" Certification Claim Critiqued on Aug 12, 2019
Milestone is touting that its latest XProtect VMS is "GDPR-ready" with a 'European Privacy Seal'. However, our investigation raises significant...
Razberi Technologies Company Profile on Aug 06, 2019
Razberi says they have doubled their revenue in the first half of 2019, citing their proprietary camera hardening and cybersecurity capabilities...
Avigilon Blue VSaaS Tested on Aug 05, 2019
Avigilon says Blue is a "powerful integrator cloud service platform", easy to set up and configure, quickly scale business, by leveraging cloud...
Online Video Surveillance Sales Comparison - Amazon, B&H, CDW, LTS, Super Circuits, More on Jul 31, 2019
IPVM has uncovered the key trends and top options being offered across commonly used surveillance sellers. How has the market shifted since we...
Australia Security Full Show Report on Jul 25, 2019
IPVM went to Australia attending the 3 days of the Australia Security Exhibition: This was held at the ICC Sydney, as shown below: In this...
Avigilon ACC7 VMS Tested on Jul 22, 2019
Avigilon's Control Center 7 boldly claims it will "transform live video monitoring" with the new Focus of Attention "AI-enabled" interface. We...
Calipsa - UK AI Startup Profile on Jul 10, 2019
Analytic startups are a major industry trend. One UK company, Calipsa is aiming to use AI to filter out false positive alarms for live video...

Most Recent Industry Reports

TMA Apologizes to Amazon / Ring on Aug 23, 2019
Not only is Amazon / Ring making major incursions into the residential security market, the organization representing the biggest incumbents, The...
China Dahua Replaces Their Software With US Pepper on Aug 22, 2019
What does a US government banned company do to improve its security positioning in the US? Well, Dahua is unveiling a novel solution, partnering...
Security Integrators Outlook On Remaining Integrators In 2025 on Aug 22, 2019
The industry has changed substantially in the last decade, with the rise of IP cameras and the race to the bottom. Indeed, more changes may be...
First GDPR Facial Recognition Fine For Sweden School on Aug 22, 2019
A school in Sweden has been fined $20,000 for using facial recognition to keep attendance in what is Sweden's first GDPR fine. Notably, the fine is...
Anyvision Facial Recognition Tested on Aug 21, 2019
Anyvision is aiming for $1 billion in revenue by 2022, backed by $74 million in funding. But does their performance live up to the hype they have...
JCI Sues Wyze on Aug 21, 2019
The mega manufacturer / integrator JCI has sued the fast-growing $20 camera Seattle startup Wyze. Inside this note: Share the court...
Dahua 4K Camera Shootout on Aug 20, 2019
Dahua's new Pro Series 4K N85CL5Z claims to "deliver superior images in all lighting and environmental conditions", but how does this compare to...
ZK Teco Atlas Access Control Tested on Aug 20, 2019
Who needs access specialists? China-based ZKTeco claims its newest access panel 'makes it very easy for anyone to learn and install access control...
Uniview Beats Intel In Trademark Lawsuit on Aug 19, 2019
Uniview has won a long-running trademark lawsuit brought by Intel, with Beijing's highest court reversing an earlier Intel win, centered on...
Suprema Biometric Mass Leak Examined on Aug 19, 2019
While Suprema is rarely discussed even within the physical security market, the South Korean biometrics manufacturer made global news this past...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact