Is it normal and/or allowed to have cameras in my lab?

Date: March 2017


Hi, Deans, 

I am wondering what level of surveillance Cornell currently has and what the “upper limit” is for office and lab spaces. There is a research group in the engineering school that is installing cameras in the lab space, and the students who use that lab will be required to sign a consent form in order to maintain access. As a graduate student who needs lab access to make progress towards a master’s or Ph.D., the choice of being constantly monitored while you work or not being able to complete your degree seems extreme. Is this normal? And, more importantly, is this allowed?

Thank you,

Camera-concerned Graduate Student


Dear Camera-concerned Graduate Student:

Thanks for your Ask a Dean question. 

University Policy 8.1, Responsible Use of Video Surveillance Systems, applies to all surveillance installations, including in research facilities. The policy is intended to provide a secure environment for members of the Cornell community in a manner that is “sensitive to interests of privacy, free assembly, and expression.” The policy “limits the use of approved equipment and the circumstances in which recorded material may be released.” Generally, any room or facility director wishing to install a camera not connected to the main campus security system must seek approval of an exception from the Cornell University Chief of Police and from Cornell’s Risk Management office. There is a specific procedure to follow to secure such approval.

In addition, the specific facility manager for that college should be aware of the installation, to determine if the proposed installation complies with any related college-level policies or procedures. The facility manager for that building is now aware of this situation and is following up, particularly to look into concerns about appropriateness and to make sure whoever is involved with the installation understands and is following the university policy requirements.

Policy 8.1 requires that surveillance equipment operators must be trained and supervised in the responsible use of the technology, including technical, legal, and ethical parameters. Installations may be approved for areas containing sensitive institutional data or technology operations, high-traffic areas, areas housing sensitive operations, or areas with high-value property, among others.

Policy 8.1 includes a signage requirement for notifying people about the use of surveillance systems. The facility manager will work to determine whether the installation you wrote about complies with that requirement as well.

If a Cornell community member believes the presence of surveillance equipment violates Policy 8.1, they may file an objection with the Chief of the Cornell University Police Department.

I hope this helps address your question. Please don’t hesitate to get back in touch with me if you have additional questions.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School