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Home security : the legalities of home surveillance

Home security : the legalities of home surveillance

Home security has always been a top priority for homeowners across the US but in a world bound by so much legal red tape, even eye witness accounts are questionable as evidence, video surveillance has been a very useful addition to home security systems.

Unfortunately video surveillance is easily misused by voyeurs of all descriptions from landlords to neighbors. This has resulted in privacy laws being implemented in an attempt to protect people from the very same technology that is supposed to be protecting them.

Video surveillance: wireless video camera use in the home


As with every other legal issue, the laws on home security surveillance varies from state to state so what might be legal in California may not be legal in New York . However, it can safely be stated that video surveillance in the home is usually legal in most states. Even covert video surveillance in the home, without the consent of those involved, is legal in most states as well as being admissible in court as evidence of wrong doing.

The fact that covert surveillance in the home is legal in most states means that hidden or wireless cameras and alarm systems have become a common way for homeowners to monitor their homes while they are not there. Hidden and wireless cameras are usually used in an attempt to capture uninhibited behavior of those who would have access to the home while the owners are out. This enables homeowners to see how people normally behave while they are away and this is particularly useful for monitoring nannies and carers for elderly people.

Laws on video surveillance used to be very limited and were only changed when incidents of misuse were reported all across the country. Incidents such as young children being recorded in school locker rooms, individuals recorded in the privacy of their bedrooms and women being filmed secretly in bathrooms caused alarm bells to ring in courtrooms across the country. New laws were passed to ensure surveillance is not misused like this again or, if it is, people can at least be properly prosecuted.

These new laws include a section on the reasonable "expectation of privacy". This refers to the amount of privacy an individual would expect from certain situations. As a result video surveillance in areas such as the bathroom, bedroom and dressing rooms is strictly prohibited in most states.

Audio surveillance

Audio surveillance is very strictly controlled in almost every state and has been for many years. Eavesdropping (secretly listening in or recording conversations) is illegal in most states. This includes audio surveillance using bugs and wiretaps.

Audio recording is only legal when all those involved in the conversation are aware of the recording and have agreed to it. For this reason banks and other businesses need to give proper warning, such as recorded messages or written signs, stating that audio recording is likely to take place. This is also the reason why most hidden cameras are not sold with attached microphones.

Of course there are always exceptions to this. Recording the conversation between burglars who have broken into your home could be argued as not having broken the law seeing as the burglars would not have had any expectation of privacy.

It isn't a good idea to simply presume that the surveillance you are undertaking is legal, even if it is for home security purposes. Always check with local, state or federal authorities if there is any doubt about home surveillance legalities.