City Passes Ordinance Mandating CCTV Surveillance By Businesses, Including Doctors And Lawyers Offices

(TECH DIRT) Another government has decided to “protect” local businesses by forcing them to install surveillance cameras.

All commercial businesses located here will now be required to install and maintain security cameras or face a fine or jail following passage of a new citywide ordinance by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen Tuesday night.

“A matter that has been of increasing concern to the board lately is keeping the citizens of Madison safe, as well as the people who come here to visit our stores, through the use of security cameras,” City Attorney John Hedglin said. “It’s very important to have a record of what happens in as many places as possible.”

The ordinance has 30 days before it takes effect.

“Here” is Madison, Mississippi, a city with some very low crime rates — one frequently named to “safest cities” and “best towns for families” lists. Why it’s suddenly concerned about business-focused criminal activity is unclear, but the city’s government has decided it should be able to force businesses to install CCTV systems, whether or not they need them… or can even pay for them.

Renee Burns, manager of Hop and Habanas, voiced concerns about the cost of surveillance equipment in an interview with WAPT News.

“Surveillance cameras are very expensive, to get everything set up and it could have people close their stores because they can’t afford it,” Burns said.

And if they can’t afford them, the new statute will make sure they can’t afford to stay in business.

Existing businesses will have one year after the ordinance goes into effect to comply. Those that fail to comply may be subject to a $500 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail. Each day of noncompliance is a different violation.

While there have been similar statutes enacted in other cities, these have generally been targeted at businesses already subject to extra regulation, like pawn shops, gun stores, and pharmacies. There has been some mission creep in recent years, leading to other businesses being ordered to install surveillance systems, like cellphone resellers and scrap metal dealers.

On top of that, many of these ordinances also allow for on-demand law enforcement access, allowing the government to extend its surveillance reach without having to pay for the equipment. The specifics of Madison’s new statute haven’t been made available yet, so it’s unclear whether the collection of footage from businesses will be voluntary and tied only to investigations requested by business owners, or whether law enforcement will just be able to show up and demand to see recordings.

Then there are other privacy concerns to address. The city’s attorney has stated that the ordinance covers businesses like doctor’s offices and law offices — places where patient/client confidentiality has long been assumed. Forcing businesses like these to record interactions with their customers would perhaps prevent more-privacy conscious individuals from seeking help. And this new collection of footage could be abused/misused to identify people who thought their requests for legal/medical assistance wouldn’t be turned over to law enforcement.

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