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Surveillance Camera Legal Guidelines
Do you want to know what is going on in your home or business when you are not around?
- Is your spouse cheating?
- Do you suspect elder abuse?
- What is the babysitter actually doing?
- What is going on in your supply closet?
- See who was in your residence while you were out
- What about putting a hidden camera in a public place?
Before you purchase that Hidden Camera research what is legal where you live using hidden surveillance camera in your home, office, or in the general public.
- Is it Legal to Record Video with a Hidden Camera or "Nanny Cam" in My Home?
- Nanny cams are legal in the U.S., but most are sold without audio capability due to a federal law (U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 119, Section 2512), that prohibits intercepting oral, wire or electronic communications.
Though nanny cams that can record sound are available, the footage they produce is considered illegal in some cases.
In most cases, it is perfectly legal in the United States to record surveillance video with a hidden camera in your own home without the consent of the person you're recording.
That's why the use of nanny cams is becoming increasingly common among parents and guardians who work outside their homes during the day.
But before you place a hidden camera or nanny cam in your home, it's a good idea to research the laws in your city and state.
For an extra measure of security, you may also want to speak to a criminal defense attorney about the specific ways you plan to use your camera.
Bear in mind that audio recording and video recording are two entirely different topics.
Audio recording is discussed separately below. In most states, it's illegal to record hidden camera video in areas where your subjects have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
In your home, these areas might include bathrooms and bedrooms (if your subject lives with you - as in the case of a live-in nanny).
- Courts are split on this issue, but most states seem to be leaning toward admitting secret nanny cam recordings.
However, if you live in a state that requires consent, and your nanny-cam video has audio, then it'll likely be inadmissible under wiretapping laws.
The "mute" button is a solution to that problem unless the incriminating part of the video is speech.
- Not every state expressly bans the use of hidden cameras in places where a subject might have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
But that doesn't mean you should assume it's legal - or morally acceptable - to record a subject without his or her consent in any private area.
- Remember that it's illegal in the United States to record video (or audio) with the express purpose of blackmail or other "malicious intent."
Even if you follow all other laws governing covert surveillance in your state, please keep in mind that your rights are waived if you engage in criminal behavior.
- Is it Legal to Record with a Hidden Camera in Public Areas Outside of Your Home?
- In 13 states (listed), laws stipulate that hidden surveillance cameras cannot be placed in private places, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (http://www.rcfp.org/).
"A private place is one where a person may reasonably expect to be safe from unauthorized surveillance," the RCFP writes".
Reasonable expectation of privacy" guidelines apply to the placement of hidden cameras in public places as well.
For example, it's illegal to record covert video in hotel rooms, restrooms, changing/dressing rooms, locker rooms, bedrooms, and other "private" areas.
- The states that prohibit filming with a hidden surveillance camera in private places are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Utah.
The states prohibit installing or using anything to photograph, observe or record people in those places without their permission.
In states like Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota and Utah, it is also illegal to trespass on private property for the purposes of surveillance or installing a hidden camera, according to the RCFP.
- If you're considering installing and/or using a hidden camera, be aware of the laws in your state and remember that secretly recording audio is prohibited across the country.
Outside of your home, similar laws apply.
It's generally legal for specific people to record surveillance video in public places - inside retail stores, restaurants or other places of business, for example.
It's also legal to record covert video outdoors in parks, shopping malls, apartment complexes, city streets or public squares.
- Is it Legal for Employers to Record with a Hidden Camera in the Workplace?
- Surveillance Cameras in the workplace have the same guidelines between home and public.
Generally, hidden and surveillance cameras are also legal in places of business if there is a legitimate reason for monitoring employees - such as discouraging theft, or general security countermeasures.
Many businesses use video surveillance to counter theft, violence, or sabotage.
A few employers use video surveillance to monitor employee performance.
- Neither the federal government nor the many states have established a firm set of laws governing hidden camera recording in the workplace.
Currently, small business owners are generally within their legal rights if they install hidden cameras in their places of business.
Though many business owners choose to notify their employees of the presence of hidden cams, they're not legally required to do so.
However, the same general rules for 'private places' apply.
Employers can find themselves in hot water by setting up a camera in changing rooms, or bathrooms.
- Based on guidelines established by the National Labor Relations Board, larger corporations - especially those that employ union workers - often negotiate with the applicable trade unions beforehand to establish rules governing the use of hidden cameras. But again, there are few clearly defined federal or state laws that require them to do so.
- Is it Legal to Record Conversations with a Hidden Audio Device?
- The laws on audio surveillance are clearer than the laws governing hidden camera video surveillance.
If you're thinking about recording a telephone call or an in-person conversation (using either a standalone audio recorder or a video camera that also captures sound), federal and state laws require that at least one of the parties consent to the recording.
Currently, a majority of states allow "one-party consent." States that require two-party consent include California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. (Hawaii is something of a hybrid state. It allows one-party consent for audio recordings, but it requires two-party consent if the recording device is located in a "private place.")
- Is it Legal to Record a Phone Call or Conversation When You Do Not Have Consent from One of the Parties?
- At either the federal or state level, it's almost always illegal to record a phone call or private conversation in which you are not a participant, or couldn't naturally overhear the conversation in a public place.
Additionally, federal and state laws generally deem it illegal to covertly place a recording device on a person or telephone in a home, office or restaurant to secretly record a conversation between two people who have not consented.
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