Legally required video surveillance

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed an ordinance that would compel all gun dealers to video-record sales (“to discourage traffickers and buyers who use false identification”). Presumably the video recordings would have to be kept for an extended time, since future investigations that would use the video recordings could happen years after the sale. A similar New York state bill would require that the videos be kept for one year.

Likewise, two weeks ago, Minnesota enacted a law — with much less fanfare — that would require video- or photo recording of people who come to sell cellular phones, with each recording to be kept for at least 30 days:

(a) Each wireless communications device dealer shall install and maintain at each physical location video surveillance cameras, still digital cameras, or similar devices positioned to record or photograph a frontal view showing a readily identifiable image of the face of each seller of a wireless communications device who enters the physical location.

(b) The video camera or still digital camera must be kept in operating condition and must be shown upon request to a properly identified law enforcement officer for inspection. The camera must record and display the accurate date and time. The video camera or still digital camera must be turned on at all times when the physical location is open for business and at any other time when wireless communications devices are purchased or sold.

(c) Recordings and images required by paragraph (a) shall be retained by the wireless communications device dealer for a minimum period of 30 days and shall at all reasonable times be open to the inspection of any properly identified law enforcement officer.

The ostensible focus of the law is on people who sell the phones (presumably in order to deter phone theft), but any video cameras — which “must be turned on at all times” — will also capture all cell phone buyers as well. The Center for Democracy & Technology has more on this statute.

Likewise, last year, Minnesota enacted a similar law applicable to people who sell scrap vehicles, presumably aimed at sellers of stolen vehicles. I suspect that, especially if the gun sales videorecording bills are enacted, similar laws will be proposed for sales of alcohol (which is often sold to underage buyers who have fake IDs, or to straw purchasers who are buying on behalf of an underage buyer), for sales of marijuana in places where it has been legalized, for sales of legal substances that are nonetheless potential drug or bomb precursors, and so on.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.



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