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Can Retail Stores Videotape Their Dressing Rooms?

Illinois has no preventative law

An incredible night is coming—prom, the party of the year for many young people, and a boon for retail shops everywhere. As young men and women seek out the perfect suit or dress for their special night, they wade into clothing store dressing rooms to try on the possibilities. Unbeknownst to them, they may be watched by security cameras—and even recorded—in the secluded spaces of what used to be private fitting rooms with no privacy concerns. The worst part? The observations are perfectly legal.

In Illinois, there is no privacy law preventing the use of room cameras or video cameras in dressing rooms. In fact, few states have outlawed the use of recording devices in areas that have an expectation of privacy (e.g., bathrooms, locker rooms, hotel rooms and store dressing rooms).

What Laws are In Place for our Protection?

The Federal law that governs these actions is the Video Voyeurism Act which prohibits actions that have “the intent to capture an image of a private area of an individual without their consent, and knowingly does so under circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

What is this expectation of privacy?

There are two possibilities that this federal law covers:

  • Circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that he or she could disrobe in privacy, without being concerned that an image of a private area of the individual was being captured;

  • Circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that a private area would not be visible to the public, regardless of whether that person is in a public or private place.

This law would seem to outlaw any recording or capturing of anyone in a store dressing room. So how are businesses getting away with filming customers as they undress in their changing rooms?

Most states, including Illinois, are operating under a conditional requirement of the type and manner of the recording—meaning retailers are obligated to post a notice that you will be videotaped or monitored while using their dressing rooms. This is often called informed consent. If a customer wants to use a dressing room, they are consenting to being watched.

In 2017, consumer reports showed that retail theft and shoplifting costs business owners $2 billion annually. Nationally, reports have stated that retail theft losses have equaled more than $60 billion annually. Stores are clearly monitoring store dressing rooms to prevent theft. But penalties for video surveillance, taping—or even observing—for any purpose other than loss prevention range from fines to imprisonment for up to one year in jail.

What can I do if I suspect these other purposes happening in a store?

If you suspect that you have been monitored by hidden cameras or surveillance cameras for any purpose other than preventing theft and an invasion of privacy has occurred, you should contact a reputable personal injury attorney.

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of personal injury and sexual abuse.

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