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Hidden cameras in nursing homes: The legal debate rages

There was a time, not too long ago, when the technology related to hidden cameras was such that it using one wouldn't even enter your mind. Such cameras were expensive. They had to be wired up to work. The only people who used them were spies and the police, and then only if they had some sort of warrant. Otherwise, it would violate privacy.

A lot has changed in the tech explosion that we've experienced in the last decade or so. Cameras, hidden or otherwise, have gotten so good and so small that they are now in virtually every cellphone.  

That means just about everyone can access the technology, and many have. Witness the appearance of the so-called nanny cams. Family members, concerned about possible nursing negligence when it comes to their loved ones in specialized care facilities, have used them effectively to support criminal and civil actions. Still being debated, however, are the ethical and legal implications of surreptitious surveillance, whether in Pennsylvania, Ohio or anywhere else.

Last month, the state of Oklahoma became the third state in the country to make it explicitly legal for residents in long-term care settings to have such cameras in their rooms. Many states have general administrative guidelines about video monitoring, but conflicting concerns about individual and general privacy rights and operational liability have stymied most legislative efforts.

On one side are monitoring proponents who say hidden cameras are so common today that expectations of privacy are much lower. They also observe that use of the cameras have succeeded in proving some negligence and abuse that otherwise might have gone uncovered. They say that uncertainty about whether cameras may be present can also serve to stop some of that abuse from happening.

On the other side are employers and labor union groups who say that fears of secret surveillance undermine worker morale. They also say it fails to consider the privacy rights of possible roommates and their visitors. Some argue, too, that video recordings can be misinterpreted, so clear controls are needed to lay out when monitoring is employed and who ultimately owns the images.

Clearly, there are meaningful arguments on both sides. What do you think is the proper course?

Source:, "'Granny cams' capture abuse in nursing homes," Jan Hoffman, New York Times Syndicate, Nov. 19, 2013

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