Security cameras are everywhere these days. While they have been used for years in places like shopping malls, more and more homeowners are having security cameras installed to improve their home security and prevent theft. Amazon’s sold over 400,000 of its Ring video doorbells in December 2019 alone.1 If you are contemplating adding a security camera inside or outside your home, it’s important to know that there are federal, state and local laws and ordinances governing what you can and can’t capture with your security device.
Reaching out to a trusted local locksmith for more information on home security will help with your research.
Ignorance of the law is not a valid or acceptable excuse for breaking the law. While this article will cover the basics of owning and operating a security camera, it is important for homeowners to research the laws that govern their location or to have their security camera system installed by a qualified professional, such as a locksmith, who is knowledgeable in this area.
If your security camera captures images in any public space where people generally assume there is no privacy, such as your neighbor’s front yard, the images you capture are generally acceptable by law.2 Other places, such as a public street or a crowded bar or restaurant, are also places where there is little expectation of privacy, and thus, these places can be covered by security cameras.
Common areas in residential developments, like pools and play structures, are also public areas where privacy is not assumed. Unless restricted in home owner association (HOA) bylaws, these areas could be captured by security cameras.3 However, HOA’s often prohibit pointing security cameras at other homes or units.
If you point your security camera so that it captures the inside of your neighbor’s home, that is illegal, because the inside of your neighbor’s home is considered a place where the neighbor is afforded privacy. In many jurisdictions it is “a crime to use video cameras and other devices to record or observe a person without their consent and where the person is not in plain view of the public.”4
This can also include your neighbors’ backyards if the neighbors have taken measures to insure their privacy such as installing fences, bushes or other devices that block you or others from seeing into their backyard at ground level. This also applies to other areas in your neighbors’ yards which might be enclosed and blocked from your view, such as a pool area.
Installing security cameras inside your home can also be problematic. To be clear, a trespasser inside your home can expect no privacy and thus can be captured on audio and video surveillance devices anywhere in your home. Guests in your home, however, can expect privacy in such areas such as a bathroom or a bedroom or anywhere they may change clothes, including your living room if that is where they are sleeping temporarily.
Federal and state wiretapping laws apply to audio recordings, even inside the home.5 The laws vary from needing consent of only one of the people being audio taped, to needing the consent of all people being audio taped. Thus, if you want to record the images and conversations of workers in your home, such as a nanny or contractor, you would need their permission to do so legally. It is not enough to just post a sign that says that you have a surveillance system. Consent for audio recording has to be given in writing.6
If you breach privacy or wiretapping laws to obtain surveillance videos, your videos, audio recordings and photos can’t be used as evidence in criminal proceedings and you may be subject to criminal prosecution. Clearly installing a security system has legal and financial implications, so it is best to consult a security professional, such as a reputable locksmith, who understands all the rules and regulations governing where you reside.
If you are interested in a camera system for your home or business, Action Locksmith can help. We are a trusted Michigan Locksmith that has been securing homes and businesses for over 30 years. Our services include re-keying, dead bolt installation, door repair and install, master key systems, access control and camera systems, and much more! Call today for a detailed survey of your home’s security!
1 Amazon Ring Sales Nearly Tripled in December Despite Hacks by Rani Molla, 1/21/2020
2,4, 5 Residential Security Camera Laws Explained – Is Your Setup Legal?
3, 6 Security Cameras, Ethics, and the Law by Grant Clauser, 9/23/2016