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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 video surveillance but also a requirement to address privacy issues, there are more solutions than ever to help you address it.

Options from Axis include the use of static or dynamic privacy masking in combination with visual cameras, or using thermal cameras with heat-based imaging. These solutions help you implement video surveillance without compromising privacy where needed. Radar, a non-video-based solution that provides detection and alarm alerts, is also covered later on this page.

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 (either live or recorded), there is no way to unmask it once the video is generated, guaranteeing privacy where required.

Long available as a standard feature with Axis network video products, privacy masking has evolved in newer fixed cameras to support not only simple opaque blocks, but also pixelation of the masked area and polygonal shapes for more flexible coverage.

For pan-tilt-zoom (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.

Personal data

An aspect of some privacy regulations involve restrictions on the collection of personally identifiable data including those in video. In an environment where this needs to be addressed and where video surveillance is desirable for security or business reasons, one solution is to eliminate the collection of personal data through the anonymization of individuals in a video and/or to control access to such data. The following sections address how this can be achieved.

Dynamic masking

Dynamic privacy masking is an option that safeguards privacy by anonymizing people in a video while allowing camera users to monitor activities or movements in an area.

It involves real-time masking of any pixel changes—that is, anything that moves—in a live camera view, as compared with a set background scene.

Axis’ dynamic masking solution, AXIS Live Privacy Shield, 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. This is done by streaming a separate virtual “view area” in the Axis camera with no 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 for forensic purposes. 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 surveillance needs in indoor workplaces. It is ideal for surveillance situations where the primary interest is on monitoring activities and movements, rather than on being able to identify individuals. In a production or logistics facility, your primary interest may be to see that processes are moving smoothly, not on 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 choose to come at a less busy time without exposing who the people in the video are.

In default mode, AXIS Live Privacy Shield addresses privacy rules that restrict the collection of personally identifiable data. In cases where there is also a need for video with full visual details (without dynamic masking), the analytics application has the built-in flexibility to support it, giving users the possibility to limit access to such video in supported video management software.

Thermal video

Using thermal cameras is another option that lets you monitor activities and movements while ensuring that individuals in the video are anonymized. 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 surveillance 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. AXIS D2050-VE Network Radar Detector is ideal for outdoor use in any weather, day or night. It provides 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. The network radar detector can also coordinate with a pan-tilt-zoom camera and integrate with a video management system to enhance security.

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.