Can You Legally Ban Selfies, Cell Phone Cameras, And Other Photographs From Your Place Of Business?

3 November 2015
 Categories: Law, Blog

Cell phone cameras, selfie sticks, and the general trend that has some people taking "selfies" everywhere they go to document their lives can actually be a threat to your business, for a variety of reasons. Should you consider banning selfies inside your place of business? Can you actually enforce a ban, legally? This is what you should consider.

1.) The privacy of all your other customers and your employees is at risk.

The customers who are taking selfies everywhere they go aren't concerned, but they probably aren't your only customers. Other customers may not appreciate having to dodge around selfie sticks and cameras to avoid being photographed while shopping, eating, working out, or drinking. Some people simply value their personal privacy very highly.

If your customer or client base includes any minority groups, photographs may actually violate deeply held cultural and religious objections. Some Native American groups, the Amish, and Muslim women often object to being photographed, among others. If, for example, you run a beauty parlor that is frequented by Muslim women, you don't want to create an issue by allowing other customers to use cameras inside your business. Protecting the privacy of your other customers is a legitimate reason to ban photographs inside your business.

Your employees also may not want to be subjected to photographs while they're trying to do their jobs. Hospitals, for example, are increasingly banning the use of photography equipment, much to the annoyance of some patients who feel that they should be free to record important events, like the birth of a child. The hospitals, however, are protecting the privacy of doctors and nurses who don't want starring roles in videos that can end up online somewhere.

2.) You should also consider the safety of your business, employees, and customers.

Banks ban people from taking photographs inside their doors for a very good reason: they don't want the photos to be used as a tool to plan a robbery. Even more important than protecting the money in the bank, the rule also helps protect the bank's employees and customers from would-be robbers.

Some companies clearly have an invested interest in keeping cameras out of the workplace. If you run a science lab, a high-tech company, a factory, or any other business that has trade secrets, keeping cameras out of the workplace only makes sense.

However, even if you run a retail business, you may not want competitors taking photos of your store's product displays and prices. There's nothing to be gained from making it easier on your competition to copy you or undercut you. 

3.) Make sure that your method of enforcing the ban is legal.

You can, for the most part, stop selfies and other photographs from being taken inside your place of business. Just make sure that you follow all the applicable laws when you do it so that you don't open yourself up to any legal repercussions.

A workplace ban on photos that is unevenly applied or restricts certain employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act could open you to a lawsuit. Have your attorney help you draft the wording of the ban and make sure you understand where your right to enforce it starts (and stops). You don't want to try to stop someone from taking a photo they're legally allowed to take (such as when their feet are on public property). That could also create a legal problem for you.

The easiest way to enforce a photo ban is to place "No Cameras Allowed" signs prominently at the entrance to your business and anywhere customers are likely to gather, like the waiting room or lobby. Then enforce the policy any time you see someone ignoring the rule. If a customer won't follow the rule, you can request that he or she leave the premises. The police will back you up, if necessary.

Do not invest in cell phone jammers in an attempt to "lock down" your business and keep it a selfie-free zone. That's a legal mistake that can cost you -- a lot. While cell phone jammers are easily available online, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has made the use of them illegal. The penalties for using one can include jail time and more than $100,000 in fines.

For more information, contact an attorney in your area, such as Gomez May LLP.