The Minneapolis Central Library boasts a sun-draped atrium, a roof sodded with low-lying greenery — and unbeknownst to most patrons — security cameras in every public restroom inside the glass-and-steel shrine on Hennepin Avenue.
Of the county's 41 libraries, the downtown Minneapolis location is the only one outfitted with cameras in all of its bathrooms.
They were first installed to keep tabs on things when the building opened in 2006. Two years later, Central had a new owner when city libraries merged into the larger operated by the county.
As the flagship library became a hangout for visitors disinterested in checking out the latest work by Junot Diaz, the cams were useful combating vandalism, drug peddling, and lavatory boozing.
County security manager Kirk Simmons previously told news outlets that surveillance only focuses on restroom entryways and inside sink areas, not stalls or urinals. Still, unless library goers spot the cameras, there's no signs to tip them off.
That's the problem, according to ACLU of Minnesota's Teresa Nelson.
"They really do need to provide notice these surveillance cameras are in use," she says. "Otherwise, they're guilty of a gross misdemeanor."
Minnesota law reads "a person" can't install or use a device like a security camera on the sly in private places like a hotel room, a tanning booth, or public bathrooms. But posting signage absolves the operator of "surreptitious intrusion" — i.e., surveillance cameras that people aren't aware of.
The county interprets the law way differently.
"First, there is nothing surreptitious about this," Hennepin County Attorney’s office spokesman Chuck Laszewski tells City Pages. "The camera is right there for all to see. Second, a person is not likely to expose his or her intimate parts by the sink, which is the only place the camera can view. If they do expose themselves, they can’t possibly have an expectation of privacy.… Use of the cameras is not done with intent to intrude upon or interfere with the privacy of the occupant, but is done solely to deter crime."
Needless to say, signs telling customers there's bathroom surveillance won't be going up anytime soon.