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Privacy in video surveillance

In many places around the world (both in the public and private spheres), there are rules and regulations from local/regional governments and trade unions concerning video surveillance and privacy. If you have a need for remote monitoring, but also a requirement to address privacy issues, there are more solutions than ever to help you address them.

Options include masking fixed areas in the camera view, anonymizing people through dynamic masking or thermal imaging, and using radar technology. Such solutions enable remote monitoring to take place while addressing privacy regulations that place restrictions on the collection of personally identifiable data.

When there is a need to safeguard the privacy of bystanders in video to be exported, video redaction support in video management software is also available.

Static privacy masking

Static privacy masking is ideal for use indoors and outdoors, in situations where there is a defined area of the camera view where you have no need or right to monitor, such as a neighboring property.

Static privacy masking permanently blocks a selected area from view. Since the mask is burned into all video streams from the camera (live or recorded), there is no way to unmask it once the video is generated, guaranteeing privacy where required.

Static privacy masking has long been a standard feature in Axis network video products. Newer fixed and pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras support not only simple opaque blocks, but also mosaic or pixelation for masking an area. The mosaic masking allows a predefined area of the camera view to be shown in very low resolutions. With mosaic masking, you can see movements from any activity in the pixelated area but not personally identifiable details. Newer cameras also support masking with polygonal shapes for more flexible and precise coverage.

For PTZ cameras, blocking views of unintended areas is especially important given their ability to zoom in on details over long distances and their wide area coverage. In a PTZ camera, static privacy masking is fixed to the camera’s coordinate system, ensuring that the masking is maintained in the same area of the scene, even as the camera’s field of view changes through panning, tilting and zooming.

Dynamic masking

Dynamic privacy masking safeguards people’s privacy by anonymizing them in videos while allowing camera users to monitor activities or movements.

The dynamic masking solution, AXIS Live Privacy Shield, involves real-time masking of any pixel changes—essentially anything that moves—in a live camera view, as compared with a set background scene.

It is ideal for use in indoor environments with good, stable lighting. The analytics application works in selected Axis fixed cameras and involves permanent masking in live or recorded video, so the masking cannot be removed once video is generated.

AXIS Live Privacy Shield, however, supports the simultaneous generation of a separate stream without dynamic masking, if required (illustrated in image (B) at left). This is done by streaming a separate virtual “view area” of the camera without dynamic masking. This flexibility allows users to view video with dynamic masking under normal circumstances, and if an incident occurs, access video without dynamic masking. Many video management software, such as AXIS Camera Station, support different access rights for different camera “view areas” so access to video with no dynamic masking can be limited to authorized viewers only.

By default, AXIS Live Privacy Shield applies dynamic masking to the camera’s entire field of view, but you can choose to define “exclude” areas where masking is not needed—for example, if you want to view moving objects on a conveyer belt.

AXIS Live Privacy Shield is a cost-effective solution for addressing privacy regulations and video monitoring needs in indoor workplaces. It is ideal for situations where the primary interest is in monitoring activities and movements, rather than in being able to identify individuals. For instance, in a production or logistics facility, your primary interest for video at certain locations may be to ensure that processes are moving smoothly, not in who is working there. In a retail or healthcare setting, you may be more interested in knowing if a cleaner has visited the area during a set time, rather than who the individual is. If you operate a gym or activity center, your interest in having remote video monitoring may be to let customers see how busy the place is—so they can decide when it’s best to come—without exposing the identities of people in the video.

Thermal video

Using thermal cameras is another option that lets you monitor activities and movements while ensuring that individuals in the video are anonymous. The technology uses heat variations generated by all animate and inanimate objects to produce an image of a scene. Only shapes—moving or not—are captured, ensuring that no personally identifiable details of a person in the scene are ever generated in the video.

A thermal camera can be used indoors or outdoors and in environments with light or no light, making it an excellent technology not only for guaranteeing privacy, but also for detecting movements or activities in challenging environments. It is ideal for security and safety applications ranging from perimeter protection to monitoring patients in healthcare facilities. In healthcare, for instance, a thermal camera in combination with video motion detection analytics can alert staff if a patient has fallen out of bed. Users of thermal video can ensure that alarm activities are detected and can be acted upon without compromising people’s privacy in captured video.


Radar technology with intelligent algorithms offers a solution for detecting movement and triggering alarm events without the collection of personally identifiable data. At a place like a community outdoor swimming pool where there may be privacy concerns, a network radar-based motion detector can help secure the area during after hours by detecting intrusions and automatically alerting security and activating a loudspeaker.

Axis network radar detector is ideal for outdoor use in any weather, day or night. It can provide information on the detected object’s exact position, speed and angle of movement. Since it is not sensitive to things like moving shadows, light beams, small animals or insects, this translates to fewer false alarms and more accurate detection. While the detector doesn’t provide visual confirmation, it can coordinate with a pan-tilt-zoom camera and integrate with a video management system to enhance security. The radar-based detector can be used as a standalone product or as a complement to a video surveillance system.

Video redaction

Before sharing video material, you may need to mask individuals and areas in the video that are not of interest to an investigation in order to comply with regulations that protect the privacy of bystanders. The video redaction function in AXIS Camera Station video management software allows you do this in an easy and intuitive way. You can, for example, mask only selected moving objects or mask all still and moving objects except persons of interest.

Data protection

While data protection is not dealt with here, how video surveillance data is handled is also an important aspect of ensuring privacy protection. See Cybersecurity to learn more about it.