Surveillance and Wiretapping Laws

Many people wonder if/when it’s legal to use security and “spy” cameras, so I wrote this post to make things clearer.

My first advice is to not rely on everything you read here – consult an attorney, or your local police department about the surveillance laws in your area.

In most cases I don’t think you should have too many problems, as long as you’re using surveillance cameras for the right reasons.

mini motion detection camera with audioThe most common question concerns audio combined with video surveillance. Some websites even say that audio recording isn’t available in a security camera, but this isn’t true – it depends on the company – several online companies sell cameras that combine audio with video recording. The camera on the left is one example.

 

Even if your security cameras don’t record audio, Digital Voice
digital voice recorder
Recorders
are widely available.

These are small and can easily be hidden. They’re usually about 1.5 to 3 inches wide and 4-6 inches long. They can be placed in the same room as a hidden camera and easily concealed.

Due to the digital format, many of the Digital Voice Recorders can record dozens of hours of audio and have memory features to easily search, review and delete recordings, much like a DVR (Digital Video Recorder).

Often what’s mentioned on websites is U.S. Code – Title 18, Section 2512. This is a federal statute passed in 1968, called the Wire and Electronic Communications Interception and Interception of Oral Communications Act, or also called the “Wiretap Act“.

It doesn’t specifically mention cameras, but basically says that a device is illegal if it is manufactured, sold or advertised and primarily useful for surreptitious interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications.

Legally speaking, “recording private conversations” and “covert video and audio recording” could be considered “wiretapping” and illegal. In general you aren’t supposed to do any recording (video or audio) that’s considered eavesdropping or an invasion of privacy, which includes recording in areas such as bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, bedrooms, restrooms, etc.

Some motels won’t place surveillance cameras in pool areas because some people consider being viewed or videotaped in their bathing suit an invasion of privacy.

Especially if you’ve had a crime problem at your home or business, I don’t think you should worry too much if your surveillance equipment combines video with audio recording.

Your intention should always be to turn over recordings to the police, if there is a break-in or some other problem they need to investigate.

If there have been crime problems in your area, some police departments may even give you advice and suggestions about buying and installing surveillance equipment. Police departments now routinely use dash-cams, and even “body cameras“, so they should be familiar with this type of equipment.

Again, my best advice is to consult with an attorney, or police department to be sure about laws in your area.

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