Trail Camera Bans Move Across the United States, Proving Video Surveillance Vendors Are Not Out of The Woods

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By Elizabeth Stokes | 2Q 2023 | IN-6956

Trail cameras are increasingly used by hunters in the United States to remotely detect wildlife movement. Several states have moved to ban the technology’s use to encourage fair hunting practices and to protect the privacy of public lands. While a niche controversy, the trail camera bans have implications for the wider video surveillance market as it grapples with data privacy concerns and increased regulation.

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Trail Camera Bans Increase Across the Country


The Montana legislature this year introduced a bill that would ban the sale of trail camera content and location data on public lands, joining a host of other states that have debated, regulated, or prohibited trail camera use. Several states, including Kansas, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada, have placed either full or partial bans on trail cameras for hunting, citing concerns over fairness and privacy.

A debate primarily reserved for hunters, the dispute surrounding trail cameras is emblematic of larger controversies surrounding surveillance, privacy, and data commercialization.

The Fair Chase Doctrine


Trail cameras are wireless devices typically mounted in remote areas that can photograph or film wildlife. Cellular trail cameras, which can automatically send photos or videos to a user’s personal device using a cellular connection, have experienced explosive growth in the United States, contributing to the overall increase of cellular surveillance cameras in the country. The impact of trail cameras on the installed base of surveillance cameras in the United States is further explored in ABI Research’s recent report, Video in IoT: Trends, Use Cases, and Connectivity Technology.

State legislatures and prominent hunting groups are particularly concerned that cellular trail cameras will cheapen the sport by outsourcing individual hunting skills to technology. Proponents of trail camera bans argue that cellular devices violate the hunting community standard of a “fair chase,” an ethical mantra meant to dissuade hunters from gaining an unfair advantage over game animals. The fair chase standard discourages hunters from solely relying on technology to stalk and kill animals—instead, a fair chase is one where both hunters and animals rely on their natural ability to detect and elude.

Montana’s bill had a particular focus on the selling of trail camera images, video, or location data. Some states have received reports that individuals have purchased hundreds of trail cameras to sell photos or film of wildlife patterns, effectively monetizing trail camera data and disincentivizing hunters from staking out in the field. Though the Montana bill eventually died in the Senate in early May, other states continue to guard against cellular trail cameras to protect hunting traditions and the privacy of public and private lands.

Regulation Could Interrupt Video Data Commercialization


The trail camera controversy is a niche debate in a unique market. However, the dispute has ramifications for the wider video surveillance market as it confronts privacy concerns and commercialization opportunities.

The video data collected by surveillance cameras around the world are extremely valuable, particularly when used to improve business operations. Surveillance cameras are increasingly present in malls, concert venues, and factories, collecting video data that can be used to predict customer spending patterns and employee behavior. Using surveillance cameras as business intelligence tools—rather than just security devices—increases the overall value of a surveillance system and makes video data enormously profitable for an organization.

The monetary value of video footage could entice more organizations to become like the enterprising trail camera owners, installing surveillance cameras in certain areas with the express purpose of selling footage to interested parties. This has already become a concern for many states, with particular regard to biometric data, which can often be collected through surveillance cameras. In Texas, for example, organizations are not allowed, in most circumstances, to capture biometric identifiers for commercial purposes unless an individual is notified and gives consent. Texas’ regulations are similar to those in Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which states that a private entity “may not collect, capture, purchase, receive through trade or otherwise obtain” an individual’s biometric data without giving notice and receiving consent. These regulations have implications for video surveillance vendors, many of which offer biometrics detection services like facial recognition.

Regulators understand that data produced by surveillance cameras can be especially valuable and potentially commercialized. As the video surveillance market makes use of video data for business purposes, the concerns of hunters parallel those of state governments, who argue that businesses have an unfair advantage over citizens who cannot evade intrusive surveillance. Video surveillance vendors should be aware that more legislators in the United States feel emboldened to regulate the sale of video data—whether that video data is produced from a trail camera in the woods or a surveillance camera in a store.



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