The Institute for Justice (IJ) calls on Houston officials to repeal an Orwellian ordinance that requires various businesses to install surveillance cameras at their own cost and turn footage over to the police without a warrant.  

The City Council passed the ordinance today by a vote of 15-1, and it will go into effect in 90 days. Any business that does not comply with the ordinance would be subject to fines of $500 per day. 

The law requires “bars, nightclubs, convenience stores, sexually oriented businesses, and game rooms” to install surveillance cameras with sufficient lighting at all places where customers are permitted, keep the cameras running 24/7 and store all footage for at least 30 days. Upon request from police, businesses will be forced to turn their footage over within three days. 

When city officials first proposed the ordinance, some local bar owners raised concerns that it was arbitrarily targeting their businesses, and that many could not afford to comply if it becomes law. 

“In addition to trampling on the Fourth Amendment rights of business owners, Houston’s new law also infringes on property rights. This ordinance unfairly saddles certain businesses with thousands of dollars in new expenses to install high-definition surveillance cameras and to archive their footage so it’s available for police on demand,” said IJ Attorney Jared McClain. 

“The decision of whether or not to install surveillance cameras at a business should be up to the owner, not law enforcement or city officials,” said IJ Senior Attorney Erica Smith Ewing. 

As part of its Project on the Fourth Amendment, IJ has fought back against various laws that permit government officials to conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, including a Tennessee law that allows wildlife officials to snoop around private property without a warrant and a law in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, that authorizes city officials to enter rental properties for inspection without consent from the landlord or tenants.   

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