Video/Audio Surveillance Laws 101
Just when might someone be breaking the law when it comes to using video and audio surveillance?
Video surveillance cameras are one of the bad guy’s worst enemy. Juries are more likely to hand over a guilty verdict when video footage relating to a crime is presented by the prosecution.
You see the cameras everywhere, including high up on light posts in shopping center parking lots. They’re in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, on street corners—even in the living rooms of parents in the form of a “nanny cam.”
In fact, more and more cameras are popping up in locations unbeknownst to those who end up on the footage, and these cameras can be well-hidden in common household objects like clocks and stuffed animals.
For the most part, it’s legal to use a camera in this covert way, which can also include capturing what your housekeeper is doing, without her knowledge, if you suspect her of theft. Of course, it’s very legal to hide a camera near your front door and record an intruder’s actions.
However, there’s a boundary where cameras can be installed. People expect privacy in certain situations. Certainly, the babysitter doesn’t expect privacy in her employer’s living room with the baby as she would in their bathroom.
It’s illegal to have cameras in places like restrooms, dressing rooms at stores, locker rooms at gyms, and someone else’s house—that is, someone legally can’t film you without your knowledge while you’re sitting in their kitchen talking. Another place where it would be illegal is in a cab, recording the activities of passengers unless there was signage depicting its use.
As for audio, there are also some rules:
- It’s illegal to record conversations that a person is not participating in. This means that the person can’t just be on the sidelines trying to listen in—but must be involved in the transaction. In some states it’s illegal all together.
- Another condition that would probably be against the law is when a person expects privacy with their conversation but, without their knowledge, is being recorded, such as a review by their boss at the workplace.
- Any circumstance, just about, in which the recording device is not tended to, is illegal.
Generally, as long as you inform the other party, it’s legal to record, for example an argument you’re having with your neighbor about his dog in your yard.