Someone I know --not me and not in my workplace-- has noticed a number of incidents of vandalism and petty theft in their office and in the offices of colleagues in nearby offices. Given that all offices are locked at night and that the whole area is behind another lock, the obvious suspects are cleaning staff and security staff. For obvious reasons they don't want to bring it up with security. My friend and their colleagues have considered setting up a hidden video camera to find out what is going on. However, it strikes me that there is an ethical and perhaps legal barrier to this. The cleaning staff and security staff are in a sense also in their workplace and entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Is it reasonable to set up a hidden camera in such a circumstance? Would it be reasonable, given the permission of their manager?

  • I presume "ethics" on this site roughly means "what will generally be acceptable to other people" - in that context, does it matter? Only a select few should know about it anyway, otherwise it's not particularly hidden. And the legal aspect is off topic for this site - you should consult a lawyer for legal judgement. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 22:12
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    Recording audio without consent is a criminal offence in Canada. As to video, I think you need to talk to a labour lawyer about this and follow their recommendations. Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 3:53
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    What are those “obvious” reasons not to bring it up with security?
    – Relaxed
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 11:25
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    "Obvious" was a poor choice of words. I should have explained that my friend is reluctant to bring it up with the security management because the security guards are the prime suspect and because of an expectation that management side of security would not properly investigate their own people. In retrospect this is hardly obvious and in fact one of my first suggestions was to talk to the security managers. Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 13:58
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    Also voting to close this question. What needs to be determined first is whether this action is legal (and that is off-topic for this site). After that comes the question if it is reasonable, which is primarily opinion-based, and also off-topic.
    – user8036
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 20:07

4 Answers 4


Given that serious offences have been committed, it seems a reasonable approach. I suggest the following:

  1. If this is done, it MUST be done as a company action and not individual employees freelancing.
  2. The cameras must be removed after the investigation witnessed by employee

If you're a small company without an internal security operation (ie most companies), it might be better to hire a reputable private investigator to do this, as they can protect the chain of evidence required by law.

Of course, dependant on your local legal situation, if it can be proven that the offences where committed by the cleaners/guards, you could just sack the cleaners and guards – this is the case in the UK.

  • Also worth mentioning that in some jurisdictions you must post signs indicating that an area is under video surveillance.
    – nobody
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 18:06

Putting up a hidden camera could be illegal and get you into deep, deep legal trouble. I am almost positive that this would be the case in Germany.

Any recordings may not be admissible in a court of law against the thieves. If you sack someone because of such a recording, you could be sued for wrongful termination.

Ask a lawyer first!

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    So your saying that if for example that DBP or VW had a large office that had been broken into and cleaned out of their PC's more than once they would be unable to install covert surveillance to catch those responsible? I was involved in the third!! replacement of 60-70 pc's for British Telecom in Manchester a few years back it turns out the security guard let the robbers in. For serious crimes yes it is acceptable to use video surveillance an employer has a duty of care to provide a safe and secure work place.
    – Pepone
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 19:50
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    @Pepone: I am saying that this would probably first need to be vetted with lawyers. There have been cases of people setting up cameras around private property after vandalism and getting into legal trouble because these cameras also filmed part of the street. Not directly comparable, since we are talking about an office here, but I stick with my main point: ask a lawyer first. Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 19:53
  • Slightly related, using dashboard cameras that you put in your car seems to be illegal in Germany, and evidence from such cameras has been rejected in court cases. I'd think a camera in the workplace might be a bigger problem. And in England, everything protected by a camera has a big sign about it.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 10:53
  • Likewise, here in The Netherlands if you e.g. are a shop owner and money is being stolen, it is illegal to put up a camera without contacting the police and getting permission.
    – user8036
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 20:04
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    @MarchHo: Here is a ruling of the EU Court of Justice on a private individual in the Czech Republic who set up a camera on his own private property, but which also recorded parts of the public street adjacent to it. This was deemed illegal. (I'm not talking about a company, but a private individual.) Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 12:59

From an ethical and practical point of view, it would seem that bringing it up with the people involved is the most obvious course of action. Presumably, even if you do put up cameras, advertising that fact should be more effective in preventing further incidents (beside potentially being legally required).

You mentioned the fact that your friend does not want to involve security “for obvious reasons” but I don't quite follow what those might be. It would seem that preventing theft and vandalism is their responsibility. Even if some part of the security staff is in fact involved, bringing it up would give a serious warning to everybody and might prompt the guilty party to stop (isn't it precisely what you are trying to achieve?).

Now, if your concern is that you don't trust the manager, security company or whoever is in charge of the security staff to deal with this properly or want to identify the culprits to sack them or press criminal charges then a camera is at best a small part of any solution. What you need is a lawyer or perhaps an audit of some sort that should help you find out the best ways to achieve that goal.


Usually, there are 3 conditions that must be fulfilled:

1) The (written) permission from the property owner/holder (your company).

2) You must put the written warning in the visible place that the area is monitored by the camera (usually on the entry doors) - however, some legal systems may not require that.

3) Placing a camera in that place may not be against the legal system, for example, in most (western) countries placing camera in the toilet would not be acceptable under any circumstances

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