Getting tangled in any issue is messy business. Especially when there are no or few witnesses around who can support your words. This is true whether you’re making a claim or protecting your business from one. In that case, recorded surveillance videos through CCTVs (closed circuit television) can be a big help.
However, getting the surveillance video from a store is never too simple.
Requesting Surveillance Video
Ask. It’s always okay to start here. Remember that businesses own their footage. They’re under no legal obligation to reveal it. A friendly security guard or business owner might let you at least see the footage so you know if it’s their video footage you need. Otherwise, they might give you a number or email to reach out to with a formal request.
Formal request. In case you are given a higher-up’s number or email, appreciate the position of that employee or security personnel who gave it to you. They’re already being helpful–if you really need the footage, then put in the formal request to someone with the authority to give it. Hopefully they consider your position, and allow you to have the footage.
Law enforcement involvement. If the issue is serious enough that you’ve gone to the police, you can appeal to them for help. For sure, in their search for evidence, surveillance video will be at the forefront of their minds. In this way, you might get the surveillance video you need.
Court subpoena. Ideally, it doesn’t reach this point. However, when you make a formal request to a business, they might let you know that nothing short of a court subpoena would work. In which case, if you are already talking to law enforcement and filing a case, you can wait until the court issues a subpoena for the surveillance video.
Laws and Considerations in Issuing Surveillance Video
Now let’s look at it from the position of the store. Before freely allowing their footage to be given out or even viewed, there are some challenges they need to think through.
Privacy. While an alleged victim or perpetrator may feel they have a “right” to viewing surveillance video to prove their claim or innocence, they are usually not the only ones in the video. Any business or company needs to be sure they are releasing footage only for the intended purpose, and that none of their other customers will have their privacy infringed upon.
Legal protection. It is only fair to any business to know what they are being accused of and who is doing the accusing, if it has to release any surveillance video. A short, 10-second clip of someone slipping and falling should not be enough to create problems for it. Any business should have the information and space needed to prepare a response to any accusation.
Protection as work product. This is a bit complicated. If a business is deliberately recording and preserving surveillance video in anticipation of a specific upcoming trial, they can withhold it until they choose to disclose for trial, according to the law. But if it routinely records videos as a standard security practice, the surveillance video should be released to a subpoena.
Reliability of Surveillance Video
If you are requesting surveillance video to prove a case, just having the footage will not be enough. The reliability of the video can be called into question.
Date and time. Check that the date and time are stamped on the footage, or can be reasonably determined from the metadata of the file. Otherwise, supplementary videos or witnesses might still be needed.
No tampering. As much as possible, the surveillance video should reach law enforcement or the court with no evidence of tampering. If the video is tampered with, even though that might be another court case altogether, it will remove evidence.
Sound equipment. The equipment used to record surveillance footage should be sound, with no glitches or non-updated metadata. This can cause inerrancies in timestamps and quality.
Third-party confirmation of identities in the video. Someone needs to confirm, not just that you are who you say you are, but also that you are who you say you are in the video. (Confusing, isn’t it?) This helps you confirm that you are indeed the person wronged in the situation.
If the reliability of the video can be depended on, all very well and good. At the same time, it’s to your advantage if there are others who can confirm what happened, including witnesses.