Patient Privacy and the Body Camera Concern

Patient Privacy and the Body Camera Concern | Spencer Coursen

Today’s mobile recording devices allow individuals to easily capture private moments and then immediately share them with family and friends. Scroll through any social media platform and you’re likely to find several postings of friends, family, and coworkers posing for hospital setting photos ranging from “newborn baby” and “get well soon” to “send us your prayers” and “we’re over the moon.” 

This may seem like an unassuming occurrence, but the truth is that patients and their visitors have no legal right to do so. This means that a hospital is free to enforce policies restricting any occupants from taking any audio or video recordings without first obtaining the expressed permission of the hospital. While this may seem like a bit of an overkill, hospitals concerned with liability issues surrounding the use of police body cameras on their premises may soon find it advisable to do so. 

Under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, a hospital is not responsible for the actions of individuals who are not members of the hospital’s “workforce”  which HIPAA defines as “employees, volunteers, trainees, and other persons whose conduct at work is under the direct control of the hospital.” This means that video recordings by patients or their visitors which inadvertently record the private information of another patient would not necessarily constitute a HIPAA violation.

But what if the personal information was being captured not by a trusted family member or friend, but instead by the passive recording of a police body camera acting as the the equivalent of a modern witness?

Walk into any hospital and you’re likely to witness the vast spectrum of human emotion; the joy of a new birth, the grief of a passing loved one, the turmoil of tragedy, and the agony of accident-prone pain. Emotions are revealed in a flood of interpersonal interactions as soon as you enter the lobby doors.

The emotional freedom found in a hospital is grounded in the sacred bond of confidentiality entrusted to each doctor, nurse, and technician. Any intentional breach of this trust, is met with immediate and severe punishment. The overarching protection of this confidentiality is guaranteed by HIPAA.

HIPAA is the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The primary goal of the law is to make it easier for people to keep health insurance, protect the confidentiality and security of healthcare information and help the healthcare industry control administrative costs.

The average person doesn’t pay much attention to the color-coded white board posted behind the nurses desk, or the half-revealed charts sticking out from the hospital room door frames as we walk down the hall. We’re just there to visit with whomever we are there to see. 

But what if a police officer wearing a body camera, who in the course of their duty stops by the nurse’s station to ask a perfectly legitimate question, unintentionally records the information posted on the board behind them? What if their body camera records an overheard conversation between a doctor giving instructions on patient care to a nurse? What if – however passively – they record personal health information that would have otherwise remained private had it not been for the camera on their uniform?  What if in the course of unforeseen events, the footage winds up on the six o’clock news?  Who would be held accountable?  The police? The hospital?  The news?

From a liability standpoint, hospitals are going to want to get out in front of this as early as possible. It is highly advisable for each hospital to write a formal letter to their respective police departments clearly stating two important points:

  • That under no circumstance are body cameras ever to be allowed on the premises of the hospital;
  • That in accordance with the current HIPAA audio/video recording policy, any and all audio/visual recording must be conducted via manually controlled device with a clearly visible indicator light so that those being recorded have a clear understanding of the start of recording / end of recording process. 

HIPAA guidelines do require “appropriate safeguards” be put in place by each hospital in order to best protect the privacy of health information. This is definitely an area where technology is moving faster than the law can advise, but if a patient’s private information is made public through the use of a police body camera, a hospital’s failure to articulate their appropriate safeguards would indeed find itself in the midst of a very real HIPAA violation.

Awareness + Preparation = Safety

Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management expert who has an exceptional record of success in the assessment, management, and resolution of threats, domestic and global security operations, investigations, policy authorship, and protective strategy.

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert

Top Ten Tips To Protect Your Online Privacy

Spencer Coursen | Security Expert | Protect Your Data and Your Privacy | Coursen Security Group | Surveillance camera peering into laptop computer

Online privacy concerns have been in the news cycle ever since Edward Snowden brought government surveillance to the forefront of national attention. Since then, the Sony Hack, the Target data breach, and the dark web sale of Walmart credit card data has only helped to fuel the national discussion. Despite popular opinion, it’s not just the big corporations being affected.

Hackers are targeting everyday users with daily “phishing” lures hoping to ransom critical files for profit or to exploit web-enabled devices like this baby monitor with nefarious intent. At present, there is no reliable count as to how many hacks take place each year, but a recent study shows that phishing and hacking scams make up 70% of all cyber attacks.

Despite this well-documented concern, Americans as a whole aren’t doing much to protect themselves. According to a recent survey, 54 percent of American’s think it’s too difficult to protect their privacy. But the reality is that it is much easier to reduce your vulnerability than many might think.

Following these ten tips will help to ensure your online privacy:

1.  Hacking Happens More Than You Know The likelihood of someone trying to hack your information is much greater than someone trying to break into your home.  So long as valuable data remains unsecured or poorly protected, there will always be those who are willing to take advantage of inherent weakness for personal gain. Hacking is a billion dollar a year business. Protect yourself accordingly.

2. Use Strong Passwords

It can literally take a computer program less than a second to break a common 8 character password. A strong password should combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols. Each account should have it’s own unique password. For those who have many different accounts, using a passphrase where a unique sequence remains constant while a particular aspect changes with each account is a recommended reminder.  For example, if you were born in October you may try:

IW@sB*rnIn0ct_F@ceb**k    or    IW@sB*rnIn0ct_m@il    or IW@sB*rnInOct_w0rk

It’s best if passwords are changed every 90 days and immediately after ending any personal or professional relationship.

Try to avoid using words found in the dictionary. Instead, modify words you can easily remember and spell them using symbols and numbers whenever possible. Example: Baseball = B@seB*1!

3. Update Software and Security Settings Often.

Most of the updates that come across your screen are related to security enhancements that reduce vulnerability. Whenever a compromised piece of code is identified, hackers only have a limited amount of time to exploit that vulnerability before the software update takes effect.  Updating software as soon as it becomes available closes the window of opportunity for the hacker to do harm.  When you see that a software update is available, always choose Yes!

4. Beware of Phishing 

Phishing is the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details. These communications always masquerade as coming from a trustworthy contact.  A popular phishing exploit is the one involving a Nigerian Prince who is in desperate need of your help.  Educate yourself on current phishing schemes and protect yourself accordingly.

5. When In Doubt, Throw It Out.

Pay particular attention to the validity of unsolicited emails from your bank, credit card, and utility companies prompting you to provide personal information like your username, password, or social security number. Most malware is delivered in the form of downloads, links, and fake profiles. If it looks suspicious, don’t take any chances and delete it immediately. If an email from your bank says to call them, check to make sure the number they provide is the same as the number on the back of your check card. Before you click on any link, hover the cursor over the hyperlink to reveal the true address destination.  Always check the address bar for a known and trusted address like “” and not something like “”  before clicking.

6. Enhance Your Privacy Settings

The privacy settings on desktop computers, mobile devices, and social media applications gives you near total control over who can view your information. Always assume that somewhere in your network is a weak link. You may have the best security settings possible, but if you send something to a friend who’s network gets hacked, then whatever you sent them just became vulnerable. Take a few minutes right now to update your settings, turn off geo-locators, and take control of your online experience in a positive way.

7. Keep Confidential, Important, and Sensitive Data Separate

In addition to being a best practice for regularly backing up your computer, it is also recommended to keep photos and other private files on an password-protected external hard drive that is not connected to the internet. These devices are lightweight, mobile, and small enough to travel with you.  They will help keep your private files compartmentalized and protected from an unexpected breach to your network.

8. Protect Your Online Browsing Habits From Being Tracked or Monitored

TOR is a free software that provides access to a network of anonymous proxy servers. Originally intended to help journalists, spies, and students communicate in regions of online censorship, it is now used by many to help ensure  their browsing habits remain anonymous.

9. Enhance Your Infrastructure Settings

Regularly running virus scans on your computer and updating the security features of your wireless router are extremely important. This is especially the case if you have had your wireless router for a few years and find yourself still using WEP encryption.Standard WEP is easily cracked within minutes and does nothing more than provide a false sense of security. Unfortunately, many people set their wireless routers up years ago and have never bothered to change their wireless encryption from WEP to the newer and stronger WPA2 security. DO NOT use the default password posted on the bottom of the router as many are available via Google.

10. Exercise Caution With Free WiFi Hotspots.

WiFi hotspots are intended to help retailers enhance the customer experience and provide a valued public service in times of need. During Hurricane Sandy, the free wifi at Starbucks was applauded for helping thousands of New Yorkers keep in touch with loved ones.  Free WiFi hotspots are great for general browsing, double checking directions, or looking up local movie times, but since they offer very low security precautions it is best to never use them for banking, online shopping, or any other login/password protected sites. Remember: 

Being aware of the realistic risks you are most likely to face and taking the necessary preparations to protect yourself is the best defense against those who wish to do harm.

Awareness + Preparation = Safety

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.


Back To School Safety: Informed Parents Make A Meaningful Difference

Top 5 School Safety Questions Every Parent Should Ask | Spencer Coursen

When parents ask the right questions, schools get safer.

With the start of the new school year just around the corner, parents with concern for their child’s safety are making a meaningful difference.  When parents ask the right questions, schools get safer. Today’s parent’s are no longer satisfied with being told that “everything is being done.”  Today’s parent’s want to know precisely what that “something” is.  If you are among those parents making a meaningful difference — and you want to learn more about what your school is doing to keep your child safe — the following are the top five school safety questions every parent should ask:

1. When was the last safety and security assessment conducted? Who conducted it? What were the findings? What enhancements were recommended? What actions were taken? When is the next assessment scheduled?

Safety requirements are typically mandated at the state level, but individual school boards still have a lot of discretion in how those state policy’s get implemented at the local level.  Virginia, for example, requires their schools to have a security audit conducted every year, but not all states adhere to these same standards, and not all states place the same emphasis on the safety of the students. Some schools choose to have their security assessments focus  on other security-driven concerns like computer theft and vandalism rather than student safety.

2. Who is the administrator responsible for handling the school’s threat assessment and management program?

The goal of a threat assessment and management program is to keep schools safe and help would be offenders overcome their anger, hopelessness, and despair. A threat assessment program provides students with the help they need while managing an otherwise hostile threat toward peaceful resolve.  

Who is responsible for managing threats at your child’s school?  What training are teachers given? What is the methodology for how are those threats are reported, assessed, and managed?

3. What is the school’s access control policy for visitors and student re-admittance once classes are in session? How is this policy enforced?

In most cases, schools have a very well-written and in-depth policy for being allowed into the school once classes are in session. Regrettably, the practical application of that policy leaves much to be desired. In most instances, findings show that those who are responsible for granting access are usually inundated with a dozen other priority tasking – the least of which is confirming that the person at the door is who they claim to be.  This reduces an otherwise effective access control policy to nothing more than a Pavlovian response of: Buzzer Pressed = Access Granted.

4. What are the determining factors for when to evacuate and when to shelter-in-place? Who is it that makes that decision? 

The difference between when to evacuate and when to shelter in place is pretty cut and dry. As general rule, if the threat is external to the school (high winds, falling trees, severe storms) you stay inside and shelter-in-place where it is safe. Conversely, if the threat is internal to the school, (bomb scare, fire, active shooter) you would evacuate in order to put as much time and distance from the threat as possible.

When threatened with a physical threat like an active shooter or a bomb, running away and putting as much time and distance between you and the threat is ALWAYS the best course of action.

“Hiding” should only be a last-resort option. You wouldn’t hide from a fire in hope it wouldn’t find you — you would run.  Life and death is not a game of hide and seek.

Life and death is not a game of hide and seek.

The issue that most often arises is that schools often prioritize accountability over survivability. As one school administrator explained, “liability wise, it’s better for us to have an injured student we can account for, than a student who’s perfectly safe, but “missing.”

5. What nearby safe-havens are in close proximity (running distance) to the school where your child could go in the event of an emergency evacuation?

Safe-Havens are a place where you know you can go to be safe and seek help.

There have been some concerns raised with just how safe evacuation plans really are. Especially those which are rehearsed ad nauseam and shared on social media. When you evacuate a building because it is unsafe, you want to move to a place that ensures some level of security…not a parking lot or street corner where you just wait to be counted. After all, the whole point of evacuation is to be safe.

Children deserve a safe and welcoming learning environment. Administrators seeking to improve student safety and school security need to heed a simple, yet important fact: Over time, safety, unlike algebra, has evolved into a completely different subject matter from what many administrators once learned. Partisan politics need not get in the way of parents asking the right questions to ensure that their children get the protection they deserve.

Additional Reading: Empowering Parents On School Safety Precautions



SAFETY MADE SIMPLE | Spencer Coursen

No is a complete sentence | Spencer Coursen | Safety Made Simple

Help keep yourself safe with these simple, practical, and realistic reminders. “Safety Made Simple” is all about common sense suggestions that everyone can use to prepare today for a safer tomorrow.

“No!” is a complete sentence.

It is the end of the conversation, not the beginning of a negotiation. If someone is coming toward you, hold out your hands in front of you and yell “NO!” “STOP!” or “STAY BACK!” Most criminals interviewed after their crimes have repeatedly stated they would leave a woman alone if she yelled or showed that she would not be afraid to fight back. Criminals want easy prey. They prefer the weakest among us, not the strongest.

Trust Your Intuition

Your unwillingness to offend should never be greater than your willingness to offend. Fear is a warning sign, not a beast of burden. Attackers play your fear to their advantage. Turn the tables and use it to yours.

Peep-Hole Protection

So many robberies happen simply because the home-owner unsuspectingly opens the door without first checking who’s at the door. If you don’t see anyone when you look through the hole – or if the view is blocked for any reason – don’t open the door.

Know Where To Go – Know How To Get There

Try to gather basic information on what to do when presented withnatural disasters, a medical crisis, or even bomb threats. If nothing else, at least learn which natural disasters are likely to occur in your area, and what you should do in the event of one happening.A safe haven is a place you know you can go to be safe. Traveling for business? Away on vacation? Out for a run in the park? Feel like you’re being followed? Know those places you can easily go to be safe. When in doubt, “Run to a Restaurant” They are easy to find and easy to access. They will also have food, water, restrooms, phones, and a local staff who can help you if you’re in trouble.

Fitness Matters

When it comes to staying safe, your ability to push, jump, and run may make all the difference. Are you safety fit?

Pack An Emergency Bag.

Safety is often the by product of awareness and preparation. Prepare for the unexpected by packing two easy-to-carry bags and leave one in your car and one in your house. Ideally, these kits should contain items tailored to your personal needs. You can find a pre-packed options online, or you can consult this Red Cross packing list if you want to make your own. A few basics are water, non-perishable food items, a first aid kit, cell phone charger, a blanket, an extra jacket and pair of shoes, candles, matches, flashlight and batteries, money, and (digital) copies of documents you might need in the event that your personal belongings are lost.

Be Extra-Cautious In Parking Lots

80% of all reported crime at retail and shopping stores take place in the parking lot. Try to park as close to the entrance as possible or in areas that are well-lit and have the most pedestrian traffic. Follow these seven safety tips to help you avoid parking lot predators.

Alone And Unsure?

When in doubt, call someone. Don’t want to call someone? Use your phone’s voice recorder or call your own phone line and leave yourself a message. Don’t know what you say? Just look around and start describing what your seeing. This serves a dual role of promoting both aspects of awareness and deterrence while at the same time adding the extra insurance of capturing it all on tape.

An Alarm For Every Occasion.

Pre-set a 2 minute timer with a ringtone on your phone. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll use this trick. It’s a great way to excuse yourself with an “I’ve got to take this” faux phone call.

Self Defense Tools Are Great; A Self Defense Mindset Is Better.

Your mind will never be buried at the bottom of a purse when you need it most. Things like pepper spray can be a useful tool, but did you know that it doesn’t work on everyone? (Pepper spray has little to no debilitative impact on 20% of population) Fight or flight will never fail you, but tools fail all the time.

Google Voice

Google voice numbers are free and will forward to any phone you want. They are great for giving out to people who you “just met but don’t know.”

Hotel Room Safety

At check-in, ask the receptionist to not say your room number out loud. When entering your room, check to make sure no one is lingering in the hallway before entering.

Always keep your hotel room door locked and consider packing adoor wedge for extra safety.

What’s Your Starbucks Name?

Coffee houses use your name to keep drink orders straight, but then they call out your name for the world to hear and send you out the door with your name emblazoned on the side of their cup for all to see. Embrace your inner Carrie Mathison and try using a “cover name.”

“Check-In” After You Check-Out

Sharing your location on FourSquare, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is great for letting your friends know what you are doing, but consider sharing this information after you have already been there / done that.You don’t want to make it easier to digitally stalk you and know when you’re not home.

Had a great time at the  pool party!  >  Just got to the pool party! 

Stay Social Media Safe

Be mindful of how much you share. Online predators are known to troll multiple sites stalking potential victims under the guise of a proper gentleman. Promote a positive protective posture at all times and trust your instincts.

Screen Caps And Camera Phones Can Make A Difference.

Take screen caps of maps, directions and important information you may need when traveling in case wifi or cell tower reception isn’t available. It’s also a great way to remember where you parked, what the kids wore to school today, and serves as a great reminder for which gym locker you used.


Effective self-defense begins long before a physical altercation. Awareness of your surroundings, awareness of your environment, and awareness of what looks out of place, prepares you physically and mentally for what may come next. Being aware and engaged with your environment also promotes a confidence that is often your first line of defense in convincing a would-be-attacker that they will have a greater chance of success targeting someone else.


Spencer Coursen is the President of Coursen Security Group. He is an expert security advisor, threat assessment consultant, and protective strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help corporations, non-profit organizations, schools, and at-risk public figures ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.

 @SpencerCoursen / @CoursenSecurity

Keep Yourself Safe In The Parking Lot: Seven Simple Solutions

Parking Lot Safety For Women | by Spencer Coursen

Grocery store parking lots and retail parking garages are used everyday by millions of people, but did you know that they are also one of the most likely locations for would-be-attackers to prey on unassuming victims?  Recent findings show that more than 80% of reported crimes at retail and shopping establishments took place in the parking lot.


Perhaps the most significant factor, is that in addition to having our hands full as we move to our cars, parking lots are a naturally reflective “transition time.” These are locations when our minds are often not ‘in the moment.’  Moving to our vehicles is a time when the mind – however subconsciously – is most likely to either revert back to whatever it was we were just doing or projects forward to what we are about to do. This means were are less likely to be situationally aware of our immediate surroundings, thus more vulnerable to attack.

Be aware of this disadvantage. Make the following best practices part of your everyday “parking process” and help bring your mind back to the present. Increasing your situational awareness will drastically reduce your likelihood of being attacked.

Seven Simple Safety Solutions:

  • Whenever possible, choose a a parking lot rather than a parking garage. The natural visibility and surveillance of a parking lot is much better than inside a parking garage where line-of-site safety is drastically reduced by support beams, ramps, elevator bays, and stairwells.
  • Try to park in areas that are well-lit and easily accessible. Those closest to the main entrance or parking garage exits are best. If you have to call for help, you want to be found fast, so it’s best to avoid dark, remote, and hard to describe locations.  Ask yourself this question when you get out of your car. If you were to scream for help, would anyone see or hear you?  If the answer is, “no” or “not really”  park elsewhere.
  • If you feel someone is following you or paying you the wrong kind of attention, look at them right in the face. You may even choose to make some kind of out loud, off-hand comment describing them. “Red hat.” “Blue shirt.” “Brown Hair.” Saying something descriptive helps your mind to take a memory snapshot of what you’re seeing. Criminals rely on anonymity to successfully carry-out and get away with their crime. Letting them know that you see them serves two purposes: it demonstrates to a would-be-attacker that you are aware of their presence and have therefore taken away their “element of surprise,” but you also take away their anonymity. Now that you have seen their face, you could describe them to police and identify them in a lineup.
  • Use the panic alarm. If you sound the alarm well-before you get to your car (like as you’re leaving the store) the attention of everyone in the surrounding area will be brought to your car. Bad guys need anonymity to do their bidding. Your car alarm will bring the would-be-attacker unwanted attention and drastically reduce their likelihood of success. Intentionally “sounding the alarm” raises your own awareness too.

Panic Button

  • Attackers play your fear to their advantage. Turn the tables and use it to yours. If someone is coming toward you, hold out your hands in front of you and yell “NO!” “STOP!” or “STAY BACK!” Most criminals interviewed after their crimes have repeatedly stated they would leave a woman alone if she yelled or showed that she would not be afraid to fight back. Criminals want easy prey. They prefer the weakest among us, not the strongest.

Stop! Female Empowerment For Safety

  • If you have a baby with you, young children, or just a lot of stuff to carry, try to park so that the side of the car you use to load/unload faces the store’s entrance. You’ll be safer where those entering and exiting the store can see and hear you.

Mom Kids Car Groceries

  • Keep in mind that how you park is just as important as where you park. Parking so that your car faces out may make it easier when it’s time to leave, but it also may make it easier for a would-be-attacker to create a trap.  If you see someone suspicious in the car next to you, especially if it’s a van, exercise caution. Don’t be afraid to go back inside and ask for an escort. TRUST YOUR GUT! This is especially important if no one else is around. Remember that you can always use the passenger door to enter. Don’t let yourself get “boxed in.” It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Front Facing Van    Parking Lot Protection | Don't Get Boxed In

Remember: Effective self-defense begins long before a physical altercation. Awareness of your surroundings, awareness of your environment, and awareness of what looks ‘out of place,’ prepares you physically and mentally for what may come next. Being aware and engaged with your environment also promotes a confidence that is often your first line of defense in convincing a would-be-attacker that they will have a greater chance of success targeting someone else.


Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management expert who has an exceptional record of success in the assessment, management, and resolution of threats, domestic and global security operations, investigations, policy authorship, and protective strategy.

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert