Legalities of Using a Hidden Camera: How to Know When It’s Legal and Illegal

The disparity between legal and illegal installations of hidden cameras today is something that continues to confuse people across the country. The reason for this is that the moment when a hidden camera becomes illegal can be a grey area. Each state has its own laws and regulations regarding the legality of hidden cameras, making it harder to generalize the installation of the surveillance tools. Generally speaking though, it is legal to record surveillance video with a hidden camera in your home or public place without the consent of the person you're recording. However, there are some exceptions to that must be abided, or it becomes illegal. Knowing this and your state law will make it easier for you to determine if the installation of your security camera is right with the law.

Whether you’re implementing your own security system, placing a camera in your workplace, or considering the installation of a camera on our outside of your property, you are probably wondering if you are violating any laws in the process. Do you have to notify people if they are being recorded? Are there certain places that are illegal when a camera is installed? You want to definitely educate yourself on the legality of placing hidden cameras, considering the felony of being caught illegally spying on people won’t fare well for you moving forward.

We’re going to look at the most common places to consider placing a camera, and when it’s considered legal versus illegal.

Your Home

We’ve all heard of “nanny-cams,” those cameras used to spy on your nannies while you’re out to eat or at work. Cameras hidden in teddy-bears, clocks, etc... these tools provided parents with some peace of mind while nannies stepped in to take care of the children. As you can imagine, the most legality you’re ever going to encounter with a surveillance camera is on your own property. In general, hiding these nanny-cams is legal. The same thing goes with a surveillance system outside your home and on your property. How you choose to use a camera on your own property will be paramount to the cases put forth in court. The bottom line is: feel free to use hidden cameras in any way you see fit at your home as long as your guests have a "reasonable expectation of privacy". In your home, these areas might include bathrooms or bedrooms (if the subject is living on the premises).

The catch: If your child goes over to a friend’s home, spying on the children at another home is not legal, even though it’s for the safety of your child.

Airbnb Question

However, when we’re talking about homes, if you host Airbnb guests or any other kinds of people that you welcome into your home, it is NOT legal to spy on them. Known as the “reasonable expectation of privacy” clause, this rule states that hidden cameras are not legal in private situations, to include bedrooms and bathrooms. If you are an Airbnb host, it is not legal to place a camera in your guestroom. If you feel that you still want to place the camera in these places, you owe it to the guests to alert them of the surveillance. However, that is an entirely separate issue you will have to take up with Airbnb and so forth.

Public Placement

Placing cameras in your home is one thing, how about placing them in a public space? Generally, you can legally place a camera in public places. People who are out in public spaces are already giving up their privacy. When these people enter public restrooms, locker rooms, and other similar spaces, these people do expect a “reasonable right to privacy.” and placing a camera in one of these instances becomes illegal.

Employers vs. Employees

If you want to put a hidden camera in your workplace, you have every right to do that. As a business owner, you have every legal right to do so. However, the “reasonable right to privacy" clause still applies at their place of business. If you violate their privacy on the job, they have a right to sue you. A lot Owners alert their employees to the use of cameras at their locations so they are encouraged to be on their best behavior, but it is not required.

Audio Surveillance

Let’s say you aren’t thinking about installing a camera, but rather picking up on audio when you’re not around. The laws surrounding audio surveillance are a bit more defined than those surrounding hidden camera surveillance. If you want to record a telephone call or an in-person conversation, federal law states that at least one of the parties must be made aware and consent to the recording. Known as one-party consensus, that’s how most states do it today. States that require two-party consent include California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. (Hawaii allows one-party consent for audio recordings, but it requires two-party consent if the recording device is located in a "private place.")

Know Your Rights

If you think you’re being illegally watched, you can easily obtain a camera detector to find hidden cameras, audio bugs, and tracking devices. Check out our counter surveillance section to pick one of these up at an affordable price. You can also hire a private investigator to have both hidden cameras and audio bugs found and removed from your property. Above all, you can educate yourself on how to spot these hidden cameras. If you are an Airbnb guest, you can report the host to Airbnb. The same thing goes for hotels. Know your rights, and know when a hidden camera is legal versus illegal.