Use of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in the Workplace

Use of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in the Workplace

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Use of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in the Workplace


The next generation approaching adulthood has a new challenge; growing up during the technological revolution and believing being monitored is way of life. Generation Y, as they are termed, will grow up thinking it is normal for video cameras to be on every street corner, at work, automatic teller machines, and one day in every home as a security device. They may grow up having “Big Brother” in the workplace applying constant pressure on them to prove they are productive. A 1998 survey of 1,085 corporations conducted by the American Management Association shows more than 40 percent engaged in some kind of intrusive employee monitoring. Such monitoring includes checking of e-mail, voice mail and telephone conversations; recording of computer keystrokes; and video recording of job performance (Doyle p. 1). My goal is to inform the working population about electronic monitoring. The question I strive to answer, “Will employees be monitored on closed circuit television (CCTV) to determine their productivity or worth to the company and does this violate their privacy?”

Information needed to understand the problem “Big Brother in the Workplace”

“Big Brother” is the term used to describe the intent to monitor individuals for any potential wrongdoing. See Philip in Figure 1, who voluntarily installed a web cam in his office. What will it be like to live in a future where this is the norm? It is important to understand what closed circuit television is, what video surveillance is, and who is using the technology.

What is closed circuit television (CCTV)?

“Closed circuit television is defined as a television system that transmits images on a ‘closed loop’ basis, where images are only available to those directly connected to the transmission system. The transmission of CCTV images may involve the use of coaxial cable, fiber-optic cable, telephone lines, infrared, and radio transmission systems” (CCTV – Definitions).

What is video surveillance?

“Video surveillance is defined as surveillance by CCTV for direct visual monitoring and/or recording of activities on premises or in a place” (CCTV – Definitions).

Why is video surveillance used in the workplace?

Most companies implement video cameras to prevent theft or corporate espionage; avoid legal problems due to employee actions, or to raise employee productivity. However, the potential for misuse is huge if the security staff does not implement guidelines. We rarely notice video cameras mounted near the entrances or exits of our offices, above coffee machines, or near copiers until we enter the security office and see the CCTV’s monitoring the places we frequent during a regular business day.

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Most companies implement guidelines for their integrated security systems to safeguard assets with internal security policies. I reviewed the internal security policy for a Fortune 500 company in Silicon Valley to understand what corporations do to self-regulate usage of surveillance. The document is available on their intranet in hopes the employees will inform themselves of company policies and procedures. In order to use their security policy, I agreed to keep the company name confidential, all references to this company and document will be noted as Silicon Company. The purpose of the security policy is stated as, “…the standards by which buildings and specified rooms within these buildings will be secured and protected through the use of integrated security systems (Silicon 1998). Silicon Company uses the Panasonic model CP450 (color) and states this in the policy to ensure each location complies with the standard. They further define the usage of CCTV as follows, “…CCTV will be connected to Multiplexors which allow multiple cameras to be recorded on one video cassette recorder (VCR). No more than six cameras will be recorded on one VCR when the tapes are changed every twenty-four hours. If more than six cameras are being recorded on one VCR, the tape will be changed every twelve hours” (Silicon 1998). The company uses an integrated approach to security by also using card readers, alarm contacts on doors, audible alarms, and security personnel to prevent theft at their facilities. This company does not use video surveillance to determine employee productivity or monitor employee breaks, their purpose for video surveillance is to safeguard company assets. The policy details the locations where CCTV systems are to be installed and any deviations from these locations require approval in writing by the Security Manager; exterior doors, emergency exits, shipping/receiving roll-up doors, interior doors, lobby areas, and high dollar value rooms (Silicon 1998). By using more than one method for safeguarding their assets, the company avoids relying too heavily on video surveillance.

Ethical Considerations

How is privacy defined?

Privacy is defined by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis in 1890’s Harvard Law Review article as the right to be left alone or the right to some measure of solitude in one’s life (Spinello p. 102). This definition is too vague to be useful in the context of video surveillance. One can argue the subject being monitored is left alone because active interaction with the individual is not taking place. Ruth Gavison defines privacy as, “…the limitation of others’ access to an individual with three key elements: secrecy (confidentiality), anonymity, and solitude” (Spinello p. 102). This definition gives us the framework to argue video surveillance invades employee privacy because it infringes on the employees right to anonymity or “…protection from undesired attention” (Spinello p.102).

What are the laws surrounding the issue of privacy at work?

Surprisingly, employment law rarely mentions or protects employee rights to privacy. The United States Constitution gives substantial protection to privacy in the home but not where Americans make a living (Doyle p. 1). Some organizations who provide information regarding the issue, our rights, the law and how it relates to privacy is the California Research Bureau: California State Library and the American Civil Liberties Union who both have websites with information and statistics on corporations and electronic monitoring. The California Research Bureau (CRB) provides non-partisan research, policy assistance, and assistance in preparing legislative proposals to the Governor’s office, members of both houses of the Legislature, and other government officers.

“In 1986, Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act which allowed law enforcement to use rapidly expanding technologies such as video surveillance. The law sought to balance an individual’s right to privacy with law enforcement’s need to collect information for public safety” (Nieto p. 4). This law was applied to the New York Trade Center bombing (Nieto p. 4). What is interesting about Title I of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (18 U.S.C Section 2510), is it does not apply to CCTV since it does not have audio. Title I limits video surveillance with audio capabilities; it covers orders “authorizing or approving the interceptions of a wire or oral communication” (Nieto p.4).

The Fourth Amendment protects the individual’s right to search and seizure, in layman terms, we have the right not to incriminate ourselves to any crimes. Video surveillance may negate this right because we cannot control where CCTV is installed and used at work. However, the Supreme Court developed a test to determine if such surveillance violates the Constitution (Nieto p. 5):

1. Does the surveillance occur from publicly navigable space?

2. Is the surveillance conducted in a physically non-intrusive manner?

These tests may be used to argue corporations are “publicly navigable space” since they are owned by the public in cases where the company trades on a stock exchange. One can definitely argue surveillance is physically non-intrusive since the cameras are usually ceiling mounted.

What are the ethical implications of widespread video surveillance?

Employers have the law on their side, since laws have not been created to cover all of the technological advances being implemented by corporations today. Video recording for purposes of monitoring and reviewing employee performance is a fairly recent phenomenon. “Of the companies who responded to the AMA Survey 24.7% of general services, 22.2% of public administration, 14.9% of financial services, 13.1% of other non-profits, and 12.3% of manufacturing companies reported using video recording for employee evaluations” (AMA 2000). See figure 2 for a chart expressing these percentages by industry. It is scary to think the future of employment will rely on video to determine performance. We often hear the phrase actions speak louder than words yet we still manage have misunderstandings when we have in person interactions. Since CCTV does not use audio, how will employers determine employee performance based on the video? Unfortunately, the use of CCTV for this purpose is so new we do not have concrete information detailing how it will affect employee moral and producitivity.

Even though, employers are well-intentioned in the quest for improved productivity, employee moral will inevitably drop if the employees believe they have the boss watching over everything they do. The drop in employee moral may lead to high turnover rates within the company and cause the instability with the remaining workers due to the learning curve of new employees. It would be nerve-racking to learn a potential employer will record our activities to determine whether or not we are being “productive enough”.

“Of the companies who responded to the AMA survey 43.4% of financial services, 40.6% of general services, 40.9% of retail services use video surveillance to prevent theft, violence, or sabotage. See figure 3 for a chart expressing video surveillance for these purposes “(AMA 2000). The security policy of Silicon Company illustrates the use of video surveillance in a corporation and how they have established guidelines internally to prevent misuse of the technology.

Is closed circuit television as objective as we believe it to be?

Why should the average employee who is doing his or her job care if they are being videotaped during the course of the day? Most people would say it does not matter what my employer does since I am paid to be there anyway. However, constant monitoring may decrease employee moral making employees feel like their boss is standing over them every minute to ensure they are doing their jobs.

Videos cannot accurately portray the results given by stellar performers because it does not show how employee actions can save the company money through negotiation skills or to increase profits by producing widgets in a more efficient manner. Video surveillance becomes highly subjective since it is implemented to prevent theft or to monitor employee activities, both looking for negative behavior in employees. Each gesture comes up for interpretation, since different cultures interpret the same action different ways, employees may be reprimanded or in extreme cases terminated, if a business decision is based on cultural interpretations of the footage. Video can be objective it captures employees who take company property and exit the building with it, however, will it punish employees who are moving widgets from one building to another? Only a secondary system of security personnel, property logs, or electronic tags which set off alarms could verify whether or not theft is intended in each case.


CCTV as an alternative to hiring extra personnel to deter theft and in conjunction with other security devices is a useful application of the technology because guidelines, such as security policies, can be implemented to prevent misuse. Using this technology to record employees for the purposes of determining their performance infringes on the employees right to privacy. It also questions how productivity can be determined by watching silent video feeds of employees. If we watch a video of two employees, one who is surfing the internet or emailing friends and the other working diligently on a spreadsheet or presentation, could we accurately guess which employee is doing what? Although, laws do not specifically prohibit employers from using CCTV for this, employers need to consider how this affects employee moral, turnover rates, and the employer as “Big Brother” to everyday conduct in the workplace. Does CCTV create a future where there will be layers of “Big Brother” in the government, then in employment, on down the line, where does it stop?


“Building Security Systems Procedure.” Silicon Company. 30 March 1998.

Canzoneri, Carol, Greenberg, Eric Rolfe, and Joe, Annamma. “Workplace Testing: Monitoring & Surveillance.” American Management Association. 1998 & 2000 Survey. New York, New York.

“CCTV – Definitions.” Crime Prevention Division. 6 June 2000

Doyle, Rodger. ”By the Numbers: Privacy in the Workplace” Scientific American January 1999

Nieto, Marcus. “Public Video Surveillance: Is it an Effective Crime Prevention Tool? CRB-97-005 Internet. Available:

American Civil Liberties Union. “Privacy in America: Electronic Monitoring” Internet. Available:

California Research Bureau (CRB): California State Library. Internet. Available:

Wise, Philip W. Figure 1. Internet. 2000 Available: - What closed circuit TV is?
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