I once lost my wallet. I had a hunch that it might have fallen out of my pocket when I was pumping gas. I went back to the pumps and asked if I could see the security video around the time I was there, to determine if that's what had happened. The establishment refused to let me see the video. Eventually, they watched the video themselves and reported to me that I did not appear to drop it there. I ultimately found it behind my bed. I was, of course, happy I found my wallet, but that incident got me thinking about the legality of the situation. So I pose the question.

An establishment holds control on a location open to the public. (gas station, shopping mall, outdoor entertainment, bar, shared storage lot, etc.) This establishment owns surveillance cameras with the good faith of protecting their own property. All entrances have notices posted informing all entrants that they are under surveillance. An incident happens with Alice on that premise that the cameras happen to capture. This incident does not involve the establishment's assets, it merely took place on their property.

Alice was at the public location being surveyed, has legal investment in the incident, and wants to acquire the video captured by the establishment's surveillance. The establishment's logic is that the cameras belong to them, therefore, so too does the video.

  • Is it legal for the establishment to withhold this video?
  • Is it legal for the establishment to share this video?
  • 1
    Copyright law probably comes into play here. If I take a video or a picture of something, I should be largely able to control how it's distributed to other Feb 21, 2020 at 2:20
  • 1
    Privacy is an issue. You say you lost your wallet, but maybe you really want to license plate of the interesting-looking person who was at the next pump.
    – mkennedy
    Feb 21, 2020 at 2:54
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    As an aside, if you were in the EU they would have to share the video with you (taking appropriate precautions to protect other people’s identities) under the GDPR.
    – user28517
    Feb 21, 2020 at 5:48
  • @MichaelSeifert: Though I do agree with you on technical grounds, my complaint with this is the spirit of the first word you use. Copyright is intended to protect creators from from unethical reproduction of a work, but nothing is necessarily being maliciously duplicated here. To me, it's become more like "viewright" of something that should inherently belong to Alice; proof of facts about her incident. And the fact that an uninterested, potentially very biased, party can dictate sharing of such things is unsettling to me. Then again, that's a moral debate, not a word-of-law one.
    – Charlie
    Feb 21, 2020 at 18:58
  • @mkennedy: This was my guess as to why the gas-station in question was reluctant to share. I don't agree with this because these are public places, there is no expectation of privacy. Anyone and their dog could pull out a cellphone camera and record your license plate while you're driving down the road, and it wouldn't be invasion of privacy. And I could share that video with someone standing next to me, and it still wouldn't. Why would that change just because it's, instead, security cameras?
    – Charlie
    Feb 21, 2020 at 19:02

1 Answer 1


Is it legal for the establishment to withhold this video?


Is it legal for the establishment to share this video?


  • 1
    A one word answer is not very meaningful. Perhaps explain why they can control the footage (copyright law) and how withholding it could be overcome (warrants/subpoenas).
    – Luck
    Feb 21, 2020 at 15:57
  • @Luck: I agree, citations and explanations would go a long way.
    – Charlie
    Feb 21, 2020 at 19:04

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