September 29, 2017

The camera phone may be an important business tool, but the technology comes with heavy security risks. A person carrying a tiny phone with a built-in camera can easily press a button, take a photo and transmit it over the Internet before anyone notices. The result could be intellectual property theft or embarrassing images of employees taken without their knowledge.

Camera phone photo quality continually improves, producing sharper images with more detail, and many cell phones can take full-motion videos that can be sent around the world in a matter of minutes. This technology has caused many companies to institute new policies. A number of technology firms, automakers, and even camera manufacturers forbid picture phones on their premises — or don’t allow the devices in certain areas of their plants. Some courthouses prohibit camera phones to prevent the photographing of jurors and witnesses.

At schools around the country, the devices have been banned after teachers found students cheating by surreptitiously sending images of test answers to others with cell phones. Some health clubs and other public venues also don’t allow camera phones due to concerns about pictures being taken of their customers in locker rooms and bathrooms.

In the workplace, the improper use of camera phones could also bring increased liability for businesses. Inappropriate photos taken around the workplace could increase the potential for sexual harassment suits filed against employers.

Potential liability could increase as picture phones become more common. Many companies already prohibit employees from tape recording, videotaping or taking pictures on company property. Adding camera phone restrictions is a logical next step. Here are just a few questions to ask when considering a “no camera phone” policy at your firm:

  • Could pictures of research laboratories and equipment help competitors understand how far your company has progressed with technology or a new product?
  • Could competitors gain insight into what gives you a competitive edge from photos taken around the workplace?
  • Would you let a visitor use a 35mm or other camera around the building with no restrictions? Probably not, so why allow camera phones?
  • Should restrictions apply to employees and visitors? How will they be enforced?
  • Should the policy apply to camera phones or all cellular phones? Keep in mind that some personal digital assistants also have photo capabilities.
  • In what locations or facilities should the restriction apply? Are there areas where camera phones are acceptable?
  • How will you make the policy known? For example, you can inform employees about the policy in your company handbook and notify visitors about restrictions before they come on the premises. Some companies clearly post a sign stating that camera-enabled phones aren’t allowed. Visitors must surrender the phones at the front desk or lobby and can retrieve them when they leave the building.

It’s not an easy decision to ban employees and visitors from using a version of a wireless device that’s become an everyday part of life for many people. But you also have to weigh the daily potential for camera phone abuse.

© 2017