Dressing Room Surveillance Laws

One of the cornerstone issues of the first 16 years of the 21st century has been privacy. Phones, computers, the TSA, Facebook advertising, drones; they all have had a significant impact on our understanding of privacy. As technological capability advances, so to does our concern for privacy. Technology has always advanced much faster than laws do, and it takes a while for them to catch up. As an example, Google has faced numerous lawsuits in the past few years from those claiming that they scrape emails sent over the server, sometimes for targeted marketing campaigns. The use of cameras, particularly in department stores, has also come under fire.

More and more people are starting to be aware of what appears to be cameras looking in on them while they try on clothes. Some who have worked in these stores claim that these are false; the dome doesn’t have a camera in it, but is made to appear that it does. However, shoppers do not know this, and thus feel intruded upon by the store. States have different, and sometimes conflicting, laws when it comes to the usage of cameras in department store dressing rooms.

Why Do Stores Monitor Dressing Rooms?

Loss prevention. Some stores, such as Macy’s or Kohl’s, experienced a high volume of theft and theft attempts, and so had to do something to combat it. Most noted that these theft attempts originated from shoppers taking a pile of clothes into the dressing room and confiscating a few of them in their bag or purse.

A survey from the National Retail Federation reveals some surprising statistics in regards to shoplifting. Perhaps most surprising is the high rate of employee theft. Shopper’s comprised 38 percent of reported theft, while employees were not far behind at 34 percent. In fact, employees stole nearly six times what the average shopper did in terms of monetary value. This is an explanation for why 70 percent of stores have video cameras in their main areas. A plainclothes detective is present at 33 percent of stores as well. Cameras and security personnel of course cost money, and nearly 40 percent of the stores which participated in the survey said their loss prevention budget increased from one year to the next.

There are all sorts of inherent biases when it comes to men’s and women’s shopping habits, so it may surprise some to know that men stole just as much as women did. Despite this statistic, anecdotal evidence suggests that women’s dressing rooms are monitored much more heavily than the men’s. It’s tough to tell how prevalent this is, but certainly suggests an invasion of privacy heavily tilted towards females. The laws for this kind of monitoring vary by state, and are scrutinized considerably.

What Are the Laws for Monitoring Dressing Rooms?

As of now, only 13 states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Utah) expressly prohibit the use of any monitoring system in dressing rooms. Some states, such as Massachusetts, are contradictory in their laws, as we were able to find a law that said no monitoring of any sort was allowed in dressing rooms, and another that allows it so long as customers are warned of it first. We’re not sure which law was enacted first, or if one outweighs the other, but given that it is not on that list of 13 states, it is likely that the warning of customers is the law.

That warning usually comes in the form of a sign posted outside of the dressing rooms, whose language can vary and sound quite ambiguous at times. In the other 37 states, laws require signage such as these to posted so that customers entering dressing rooms know they are potentially being monitored. Usually, customers are monitored by someone of the same gender as they, but there are times when this may not be the case.

This monitoring must be done as loss prevention only. Any motive other than this is illegal and would cause the store to be fined heavily. No, it is not legal for someone to snap cell phone pics of someone else in a changing room, and no, it is not legal for security personnel to record dressing rooms and then take that film home. If this were to happen, it would be in direct violation of the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act, and would result in criminal prosecution for that person. However, even though there is usually nothing sinister occurring, many people still feel as though they have been violated, because there is the reasonable expectation of privacy when one goes into a dressing room and closes the door.

One may find it contradictory, even hypocritical, for customers to be monitored so much more closely than employees. As previously mentioned, employees steal an average of $715 worth of product, while customers steal an average of $129, far less than those getting paid by the employer.

What Laws Are There Involving Privacy?

Other than the aforementioned VVPA, there have been numerous cases regarding privacy that have set precedent in terms of the application of law and the Constitution. That phrase, “reasonable expectation of privacy,” was first put on record in the case of Katz v. United States(1967), which involved federal agents attaching an eavesdropping device to a payphone on suspicion that Katz was illegally transmitting gambling information. The Supreme Court overturned the original conviction in a 7-1 decision on the grounds that, while there was no physical intrusion, the Fourth Amendment, “protects people, not places.”

The laws in each state regarding the monitoring of dressing rooms, as well as the overall use of video devices in public and private spaces, are somewhat fluid in terms of their language and the specificity of the law’s application. In general, it’s all about the objective of the monitoring. It bears repeating that any filming or photographing of a person without their knowledge or consent, in an area in which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, is expressly forbidden; especially if said filming is sinister in nature.

Privacy and law enforcement, however, is a fine line to walk for police and other security personnel trying to prevent a crime. Katz was such an important ruling because it expanded Constitutional protections to include electronic surveillance devices for the first time. Improved technology means that it’s necessary for privacy legislation to be constantly reviewed and renewed. As it relates to dressing room privacy, it placed strict policy on the implementation and usage of cameras and/or loss prevention monitors.
Stores are constantly at battle with shoplifters. It was reported that they lost approximately $44 billion worth of inventory in 2014 due to sticky fingers. Because people need to conceal what they’re trying to steal, stores no longer allow people to take clothes into the restroom and changing rooms are being monitored by loss prevention employees. But growing public outcry over the idea of being watched while changing, even with the best of intentions, could see many of them changing their approach to catching and preventing theft.

B. Clausen

A graduate of the University of Kansas, Brian Clausen is the U.S. news reporter for Dopplr. Before joining the team, he created digital content for large companies.

8 comments

  • Experts say that surveillance cameras can be used to your advantage but it can also be used against you, especially when it comes to your privacy. It is wise to learn few tricks to know if someone is unwarranted monitoring your move. If you want to protect your property, then you may want to invest on good quality CCTV cameras. There are many different good brands of surveillance systems. Investing on these brands can help you deter criminals away from your property.

  • I think it’s disgusting that you can’t even go in and trying to pair of clothes when you know that someone is watching you if that was the case you just change in public I felt very violated did not even notice this until afterwards this is at Burlington Coat Factory I think it is a disgrace that people sit and watch you change your clothes

  • Then is it illegal for a store to monitor you in a store without a notice stating they are doing so. I would not change in a store if I knew this. Which I’ve recently been video taped without my knowledge. I feel violated and my privacy breeches.

  • I am new in this country, the US. I am a permanent resident for more than 2 years, married to a US citizen, and I don’t know about the laws observed in this country. Tonight November 22, 2017. I brought clothes in the rest room of Goodwill Store in Atlanta Highway, because I am in the urge to urinate. And instead of leaving the clothes, I brought it with me in the rest room. Because I saw the mirror, I was tempted to fit the clothes I am intending to buy. I know there are no camera inside the fitting room, but a sales lady went in and saw me fit the dress.

    I went out of the rest room and returned the clothes back without intention of stealing it. And some of the clothes that I fitted I placed inside the cart of my husband who is also doing the shopping. Then minutes later, the manager, Derick, told me to immediately leave the store because I am suspected of stealing/shoplifting. Then I ask her innocently, what I have done? He didn’t explained anything, and threatened me if I will not leave, he will call the cops. I said to him, they can inspect me if I stole some items, and he won’t do it. He then again repeatedly threatening me and embarrassing in public. That if I won’t leave, he will call the cops.

    Then I have no choice but to leave, but my husband was left in the store, and I went back and called my husband to also leave. But my husband brought the clothes that some I fitted and paid in the counter. He did not know of what happened.

    So I cried, and being emotional, my husband asked me: “What’s wrong?”. I told him about what happened. My husband told me that it was wrong to bring clothes in the rest room to fit. I got his point! But, there’s camera when entering and cameras upon exit. I thought that I did not do any act of stealing until I left the department store with items unpaid.

    This made me really upset, because I was wrongfully accused and embarrassed in public, and even threatened to be reported to the police. Do I have a right to complain?

  • “In the other 37 states, laws require signage such as these to posted so that customers entering dressing rooms know they are potentially being monitored. Usually, customers are monitored by someone of the same gender as they, but there are times when this may not be the case. ”

    *”laws require signage such as these to posted so that customers entering dressing rooms” – Laws requiring signs posted so customers can see them?….Ummmm what happens if they put no signs and monitor anyway?…. A small fine, not a criminal charge. Does it bother you to go 1 mile an hour over the speed limit? doubt it. Doubt the fines would even matter to these stores. Some might not break the law , but not much is stopping them. I’d be willing to bet that there are companys that would do so. To even get one of these fines there’d have to be an investigation, and a warrant issued for proof. Good luck with that. The store GM , or store loss prevetion might not even know where hidden cameras are. There usually not in the store 24 hours. There are companys that monitor cameras from a locations out of state.

    “””Usually””” customers are monitored by someone of the same gender ” So “Usually” means the law says either gender can monitor the other. My guess is women would come out on the short end of the stick, as most security guards are male. So if their short staffed of one gender the other monitors it. I’m sure the supervisor monitors their LP employees of both genders too. I wonder is the video stored ? Who could possibly have access if their stored on DVR or something , and not live streamed? It’s a crime if the security guards watching it use their cell phone to take screen pics. Good luck in catching them , my guess is would be very hard to detect that they have done this , and harder to prove it. You want some creepy entry level loss prevention security guard watching you undress?

    In a sane world you’d think police would be raiding and arresting over something like this. Who cares if their intent is stopping stopping theft or not. This should be a more serious crime in , and of its self than the shoplifting their trying to prevent. Most of us aren’t thieves . A lot of us don’t think to look for signs. We are customers keeping these stores in business in the first place. If stores can’t handle the operating loss they need to eliminate dressing rooms or go out of business period.

  • While I was in Macy’s fitting room a male security barged in and rummaged through tthe items I was going to try on. He surprisef me. I asked him if he was following me he said he was following protocal. I got very irate n went HR. They appologized n agreed that it was wrong. I completed an incident report. They offered me a $25 gift card, I refused it and currently serking legal advise. I frlt humiliated and violated. Am I right to feel like this. I will never put my feet in Macy’s.

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