Surveillance Cameras at Church

Balance security and privacy

When theft, injuries, and other incidents occur at church, surveillance footage can provide an account of what happened. Surveillance cameras can help gather useful information, but there are limits to where cameras should be placed.

Surveillance efforts should balance ministry security with individual privacy. Think about the following issues before pressing the “record” button:

Notification. It’s a good idea to post signs announcing that surveillance cameras are in use. Even when not required by law, a notice sign near the property line or building entrance can improve the deterrent effect of cameras.

Privacy. Placing cameras in public places—such as the sanctuary, a foyer, or hallways—where an individual can expect to be seen by others is generally acceptable. However, restrooms, locker rooms, and other private spaces should be off-limits for cameras. If there are areas where individuals may not expect to be seen by others, it’s best to ask a locally licensed attorney for guidance before placing cameras in those areas. If an attorney approves, consider posting signs in the area notifying people that cameras are in use.

Surveillance cameras that record sound may raise additional privacy issues. Many states have laws that require at least one person's consent to record a conversation, while other states have laws requiring that all parties in a conversation consent to an audio recording. See this article for more information about audio recording, and consult a locally licensed attorney for specific guidance.

Recording and storing video content. Video footage can be helpful evidence if an incident occurs on ministry property. How long should a ministry keep surveillance video recordings? In some states, organizations are required by law to retain recordings for a certain amount of time.

If there are no legal requirements, ministry leaders can decide for themselves how long to keep recorded footage. This decision may be based on:

  • Statutes of limitations. In some situations, people can sue or bring charges for events that occurred several years ago. Ask a locally licensed attorney about the statutes of limitations in your state.
  • Storage capacity. Retaining decades of footage may not be feasible. Decide how much space the ministry wants to dedicate to video storage and proceed accordingly.
  • Data security. Whether stored digitally or on physical tapes, it’s vital to keep surveillance footage secure. A trustworthy information technology vendor may be able to find ways to improve the ministry’s data security procedures.