Dummy cameras present serious liability exposure

Published 8 November 2006

By warranting security that does not exist, companies are begging for lawsuits; to avoid problems, vendors should either refuse to install such devices or add disclaimers to their service contracts

Here’s a good question: What are the legal consequences of installing dummy CCTV cameras? We wonder not only because we live in a building that has one (Jackie Mason once joked about waking up every morning thinking, “Who can I sue today?”) but also because fake security can be tempting both to security clients and vendors. The point, of course, is deterrence. Paying a security company $30 for a sign that reads “Guarded by Acme Security” creates a certain amount of protection from criminals who would rather go next door without any risk of tripping a burglar alarm. The same goes for cameras. Put one up in a visible place, and misbehavior is certain to decrease even if the camera is just a box with wires leading nowhere.

There is a good reason, however, to be wary of such an approach. “A false sense of security relied upon by another who has a right to rely on that security may very well expose a party responsible for security,” says attorney Ken Kirschenbaum. Thus, an apartment building that installs dummy cameras in its basement laundry room is warranting to residents that the area is under surveillance. Should someone be attacked, they would have good reason to claim they had relied on the building’s pretenses, and that the building should be held liable for their injuries.

Kirchenbaum warns vendors not to install dummy systems of any kind — it is unprofessional, he says — but he is too much of an attorney not to recommend what should be done if one insists on doing so. “You should be certain to specify [the dummy cameras] in the contract and installation specifications. Using a disclaimer notice is also a good idea since it will point out all the security the subscriber has elected not to get.” This should get a vendor out from any cloud of vicarious liability, but it does nothing to protect the client, unless the client also discloses the system to his own customers.

-read more in Ken Kirchenbaum’s Security Info Watch report