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Do Universities Have Hidden Cameras?

Going off to live on a university campus feels like the first taste of freedom for many first-year college students. Your parents have much less say in your day-to-day life, and your professors are usually much more laid-back than your high school teachers. But does your university have any hidden cameras on campus?

Universities may have hidden cameras in public areas, such as hallways, classrooms, and common rooms. These cameras are there only to keep you and everyone else safe. They should never have cameras in private areas like dorm rooms and bathrooms.

This article will explore a bit more about why hidden cameras are common on college campuses and also let you know where your right to privacy takes precedence.

Why Would Colleges Have Hidden Cameras?

Colleges have hidden cameras to improve monitoring of on-site activities by students and any visitors. Hidden cameras make it harder for people with ulterior motives to carry out nefarious acts without being recorded.

The safety of college students is becoming more and more of a hot topic as violence and school shootings continue to appear in the news. In the event of a major tragedy like this, schools want to have video evidence of the perpetrator.

Source: ABC News

The possibility of a major crime like this isn’t the only reason your university uses hidden cameras. Having cameras in places not immediately visible can prevent theft and other crimes. 

If someone is hurt, cameras can capture the face of the person responsible.

Universities are not trying to spy on you and other students or keep you from breaking the rules. They are simply trying to keep you safe.

What Is U.S. Law on Universities Using Hidden Cameras?

Universities in the United States are allowed to place hidden cameras in reasonable places on campus. Some students may react indignantly to this news. You wouldn’t put a camera in the hallway of somebody’s home, and a college dormitory is your “home away from home.”

The U.S. law states that universities can use hidden cameras on private property because college dormitories are private property owned by the university. The only restrictions are surrounding areas where people may be changing, like dorm rooms and bathrooms.

Source: Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press

Now, that doesn’t mean that universities have the right to publish your image anywhere or to show it to anyone who isn’t law enforcement. 

While hidden cameras themselves are allowed for security reasons, colleges can’t send these videos to a third party other than law enforcement. Doing so could land them in serious legal trouble.

There has been some controversy over the use of cameras on college campuses in the past. Harvard University came under fire in 2014 for their use of hidden cameras to photograph classes for an internal study on attendance.

Source: The New York Times

The controversy surrounding this had to do with Harvard’s use of the images in a study, not the cameras themselves. Professors and students were unaware that their pictures were being used in this way.

Can College Dorms Have Cameras for Monitoring Students?

College dorms have hidden cameras in hallways, common room areas, or front entrances, but they shouldn’t keep a camera in the dorm room itself. If someone enters your dormitory and something happens, they want to be able to see if someone else let them in and how they made their way through the dorm.

Again, these cameras are not meant to monitor students and keep them from engaging in “bad behavior.”

Do colleges have hidden cameras?

Do University Bathrooms Have Cameras?

University bathrooms do not have cameras. Like all other U.S. citizens, students are entitled to privacy while they use the showers and bathroom. Locker rooms also do not have cameras in them.

Again, any area where students might be changing is an area where they can expect privacy. If you see a camera in your dorm room or bathroom, alert campus police or your R.A., as this is probably not a school-sanctioned camera.

Where Will Universities Place Hidden Cameras?

So, if universities aren’t allowed to put cameras in their bathrooms or bedrooms, where are they putting all these cameras? 

Universities will place hidden cameras in public areas such as:

  • Classrooms
  • Laboratories
  • Hallways
  • Stairways
  • Common areas
  • Doorways
  • Lobbies
  • Libraries

In most cases, universities won’t try to hide these cameras. Take a look around these spaces, and you’ll probably see a sheet of paper with a smiley face on it that says, “Smile! You’re on camera!

Colleges aren’t required to post a warning like this on their private property, however, so if you see a camera on campus that isn’t marked, your privacy rights aren’t being violated. Your student handbook will probably have a section on the university’s right to videotape you even when you’re not aware.

What Other Steps Do Universities Take To Keep You Safe?

As technology becomes more sophisticated, universities across the nation are updating their public safety infrastructure.

Universities are taking steps to keep you safe, including using tech like body cameras, drones, gun detectors, and facial recognition to keep tabs on potential danger across campus. Some of these new technologies are highly controversial, and not all campuses are using these techniques. 

If you’re curious about what kinds of cameras and surveillance technology are used on your college campus, contact campus security and ask.

Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation

Final Thoughts

Universities are permitted to place cameras on their property as long as they respect boundaries like dorm rooms and changing rooms. 

Don’t be angry when you see a camera on campus. Universities are not trying to play “Big Brother” or infringe upon your rights, but just want to make sure that the campus is safe for everyone.

Hidden cameras on campus are simply how the college is taking steps to protect its students. When you’re sitting in a college common room or library without an incident, smile! You’re probably on camera and are safer because of it.