Is it legal to position a surveillance camera directly into a next door neighbor’s yard? Is it legal to record video in a locker room where the camera only captures from the chest up? Are there other guidelines that installers should follow?
If your subscriber wants outdoor cameras to view his yard, there is nothing wrong with some spill over into public sidewalks, streets and even adjoining neighbors’ yards. There are, however, common sense guidelines you need to be aware of, and you can convey these to the subscriber. When it comes to positioning cameras, the focus should be on the subscriber’s property, not the neighbor’s home. The camera should never be viewing any area in the neighbor’s property where the neighbor reasonably expects privacy — common sense should tell you that. So what is a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to video surveillance?
A person on public property — a sidewalk, street or public land — should have no reasonable expectation of privacy. A person on his own property, which is easily viewed from the street or neighboring property, has no reasonable expectation of privacy. If your neighbor erects a fence or installs shrubbery and installs a sun deck or hot tub, even a pool, there may be a reasonable expectation of privacy. Positioning your camera to view that area as the primary surveillance, would be wrong.
Incidentally, even permissible video can become unlawful if the video is used for purposes that violate criminal laws or civil rights laws. These would include using a person’s likeness for commercial purposes without consent, improper purposes, like blackmail, or in some jurisdictions merely publishing — and by this I mean circulating or showing it to others — the video without consent.
The locker room scenario is a very tricky issue. Privacy is expected in bathrooms and places where people typically are undressed. Covert cameras in a locker room, especially if those videos are circulated, are going to be a problem for the user and possibly the installer.
Can you minimize the risk of civil or criminal action? Yes, I suppose. You could install highly visible cameras and signs; you could position the cameras well above waist level. You can get consent in writing from everyone entering the locker room to the video surveillance. Most importantly, you can restrict access to the video and make sure it’s used for no other purpose than delivery to the police in the event illegality is captured on video. I am trying to reach a conclusion that lets you do this job, but honestly, I think I’d pass.
Just a word on audio. Mechanical interception or recording of audio is wrong, no matter where it is, unless you have the requisite consent. For state laws, click here.