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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 a 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 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.
Video Surveillance Laws by State
Video surveillance laws differ greatly from state to state. There’s a total lack of federal laws prohibiting video surveillance in public, in the workplace, and elsewhere, sometimes known as CCTV, or closed-circuit television.
Most states allow this surveillance to occur, but there are some small exceptions and some circumstances that require monitoring on a case-by-case basis. Please note that laws change faster than an internet site. Please make sure you check on the current laws where you live.
In some states, such as New York, Rhode Island, and California, video cameras are not allowed anywhere where an individual has a reasonable expectation of complete privacy. These locations include but are not limited to:
· Changing rooms
· Hotel rooms
· Any place where a person may get undressed
In Delaware and Connecticut, businesses have to notify their employees and customers both if there are any video cameras on the property that may break any expectations of privacy, such as in a bathroom or changing room.
If there’s a public notice advising the public that video camera is in use and is posted on the property of a business, an individual’s rights to privacy are wholly forfeited and void.
Most of us accept the realities of video surveillance -- despite being somewhat invasive, cameras have a marked and noticeable impact on crime levels.
Generally, people are in favor of using video cameras in locations such as tunnels, stairways, elevators, and parking garages, due to the abnormally high rate of crime that takes place in these locations.
These videos are often used in courts as undeniable evidence.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the only legislation that comes close to addressing a federal stance on these cameras, which is the clause about guarding individuals against unreasonable or unwarranted searches and seizures.
The amendment also requires all search warrants, before they’re deemed legal, to be sanctioned by a court, who must then decide whether or not there is probable cause for issuance of a warrant.
In one Supreme Court case, Justice Potter Stewart ruled that the Fourth Amendment protects individuals and not places. When an individual knowingly exposes information to the public, they are not eligible for Fourth Amendment protections.
Any individual seeking privacy, even in a public area or an area accessible to the public, however, may still be constitutionally guarded against searches and seizures, depending on the state.
The Constitution does not, however, offer the right to privacy from unauthorized videotaping.
States are permitted to pass their own laws pertaining to video surveillance.
Florida passed a law that ties criminal penalties to hidden videotaping of individuals anywhere they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as their bathroom.
The law does not, however, protect individuals in public places, such as the beach.
Video surveillance is a complex topic that continues to evolve. Surveillance in the United States is constantly growing, owed largely to the 9/11 terror attacks.
Entrances and exits to buildings are ideal options for camera placement.
This location is optimal because cameras placed here have a good chance of capturing images of visitor faces and profiles.
Cameras should, by expert recommendation, record the entire door they’re filming, which is about 3 feet wide in most instances.
If a business owner has to choose just one location for a camera, exits are preferred over entrances in a security context because entrances are often distorted by sunlight and/or decor.
In order to best deter crimes, experts agree that placing monitors in plain view of the public is effective.
If criminals see these monitors on a wall, behind a security desk or notice it is otherwise being monitored, there’s far less of a chance that the criminal will attempt to commit a crime for fear of leaving behind evidence in the form of being caught on camera.
Over half of the employers who were surveyed by the American Management Association said that they already utilize the benefits of video monitoring.
Employees, therefore, would do well to understand the legal situation and limitations surrounding videotaping on company property, and they would also do well to familiarize themselves with the rights workers have as far as privacy in the workplace is concerned.
Twenty-four states in total have their own laws pertaining to hidden cameras, and outlaw or restrict the practice in some way.
Thirty-eight states, plus the District of Columbia, permit people to record their conversations, or conversations to which they are a party to, without informing any other parties of their intentions or actions. This law is known as “one-party consent.”
One party consent states that, as long as one party to a conversation chooses to record the interaction, it is legal for them to do so.
Nevada has this statute in effect.
However, the Supreme Court interpreted the law differently -- as an “all-party rule.” Across the country in Alabama, the covert filming of individuals while they were trespassing on private properties was considered unlawful surveillance. This may sound strange to many. It’s considered an aggravated offense to record anyone, in any place, while the individual has an expectation of privacy, without their prior express written consent.
Alabama’s notorious eavesdropping statutes criminalize the use of any devices used to overhear, record, or capture any communications, whether or not the eavesdropper is present, without the express consent of one or more parties engaged in conversation or communication.
In Alaska, it’s a misdemeanor to use any eavesdropping devices to record or hear any conversations without the express consent of one or more parties to a conversation. In New York state, the highest court ruled that these eavesdropping statutes were intended to only prohibit third-party intercepts of any communications, and thus, doesn’t apply to any participants to a conversation.
Arkansas statutes conclude that the interception of any wires, such as cellular or cordless phone conversations, is illegal, unless the recording party is a party to the conversation, or can prove that one of the other parties to the communication gave prior consent.
In Arizona, it is illegal to tape a person without their consent while that person is in a restroom, bathroom, bedroom, locker room, is undressed or engaged in sexual activities unless notices are posted.
In Colorado, it is considered a felony for an individual to record or intercept any telephone conversation or communication that occurred electronically without the express consent of one or more parties.
However, recording any communications from cordless telephones is considered a misdemeanor.
Different states have different laws regarding surveillance. In some states, mere visual recording is not illegal so long as the camera is on your neighbor’s property.
In other states, visual recording is acceptable but any audio recording is not. And in other states, all forms of recording might face criminal or civil penalties. Generally, any publically viewable areas like backyards are fair game – which is how companies like Google can record their Street View images across the United States.
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