It sounds like a harmless enough request… a package is stolen from a public use area in a multi-dwelling unit (MDU) and the tenant wants to look at the video surveillance images to see if the perpetrator can be identified.
Not so fast. In the past, legal expert Ken Kirschenbaum of Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum has tackled the thorny issue of who actually owns the video surveillance images taken by cameras from video doorbells.
The homeowner does not “own” those images… the integrator does. And unless the contract with the homeowner has clauses stipulating that the integrator is not liable for any circumstances that might arise from the release of the footage, you’d better think twice about releasing it.
Indeed, the same level of caution needs to be applied in MDU applications, but the integrator is not liable if the video is handed over for “lawful purposes,” says Kirschenbaum, columnist for CE Pro’s sister publication Security Sales & Integration.
Recently, an integrator who installed a camera system in an MDU was asked by one of the tenants to see the recorded video footage to possibly catch the mailbox area package thief.
In the past, the security integrator has received requests from the building owner to view the video history, but never from a tenant.
“In the past, we would just send him a link to download the video off of our servers, but during the past holiday season, we were asked to send the video directly to the person that had the package stolen,” says the integrator.
“My fear is that the person we send the video will recognize the person taking his package and have some sort of confrontation with the thief resulting in someone getting hurt or worse. Also, if it is OK to send the video to a non-contracted party, is there any statement we should include in our email to the third party when we send them the link to the video?”
As noted, Kirschenbaum says if the video is being remotely recorded, it may be “owned” by the integrator (or the central station that is storing the recording).
Of course, the threat of a lawsuit against the dealer is always a potential outcome if the recording is released. And in this day and age, there is a likelihood the video will end up on social media.
“What if the alleged thief is “so embarrassed he, or she, commits suicide? Are you to blame for that too?” asks Kirschenbaum rhetorically.
'Lawful Purposes' Protection
“If the data was lawfully collected, it can be delivered for lawful purposes. Ascertaining who stole the package is a lawful purpose. I don't see any liability for you. Of course you can still be sued, but you should prevail,” he says.
“Unless your video system and services include subscriber access to a portal to view the recorded video, you control the data and can determine who has access. Typically this will be your subscriber and law enforcement. You would also be required to produce the data if served with a lawful subpoena. (A subpoena can be issued by a lawyer in a pending case; no judge required in New York, for instance).”
A proper contract with your client will provide an integrator with indemnification from the actual contracted client, so it will be the customer who foots the bill for defense and pays any damage award, if it gets that far, according to Kirschenbaum.
He says if an integrator decides to send surveillance video to a ‘third party’ [in this case, the tenant] he should indicate that the data is being provided pursuant to request of the building owner, who is the dealer’s contractual customer.
Kirschenbaum advises several other “prudent steps” be taken to protect the integrator subsequent to the release of the video images, including preparing an “agreement” that the third party has to sign that:
- Covers your cost to produce the data.
- Covers costs and charges if the dealer has to answer any questions, assist with viewing the data, or authenticating the data, or testifying regarding the data.
“You can also demand indemnity from the third party and provide guidelines how the video can and should be used, and conversely, how it should not be used,” he concludes.