Public Surveillance: When and Where You’re Being Recorded

Privacy, Rights

surveylanceNo one likes being on camera all the time — even famous people hate being watched constantly. With constant public surveillance becoming inevitable, few of us know when we aren’t being watched — 0r what we shouldn’t be recording ourselves. Law enforcement has used public surveillance cameras and videos from average citizens to catch criminals in many high-profile cases. The inevitability of being constantly watched in public is obviously helpful in catching the guilty, but being watched can be frustrating for the average citizen (like those trying to evade a crazy ex). While there’s not much you can do to evade public security cameras, you can fight surveillance in some instances. And, you may be surprised to know how much your own everyday video recordings and sharing may be less legally innocent than you think.

Where You’re Being Watched

Cameras are everywhere: traffic lights, parking garages, restaurants, department stores, and housing developments. Your daily routine could easily be tracked: your morning breakfast stop, your route to work, your stop at the bank, your weekend shopping spree, your arrival home — and even that stop at your friend’s house (thanks to their home security system). In essence, most public places use security cameras — and (to avoid a lawsuit when you see yourself picking your nose on the evening news) the establishment will usually display a “Smile — you’re being watched,” sign.

What You Can’t Record

Although it’s perfectly legal to install cameras on your own property to protect it, be wary with audio recording. In most states, it is illegal to record a conversation without the consent of both parties, although some states do permit this (helpful when you are being threatened via phone, etc.).

When installing a video surveillance system to monitor your home, take care to place cameras legally (thus avoiding voyeurism charges — yikes!). As a general rule, monitoring someone without their knowledge or consent is illegal when they are in an area that provides a reasonable expectation of privacy. This includes –- but may not be limited to –- bathrooms, bedrooms or changing rooms. If your camera has a view of the neighbor’s backyard swimming pool, you could find yourself in a legitimate lawsuit (especially if they like to go skinny dipping).

It may also be illegal to record video or audio in public areas without a sign designating that you are doing so, although these laws vary by state. Audio recording without a party’s knowledge has a great deal of regulations under wiretap laws. It is almost always illegal to record another person’s conversation without their permission. As an employer, you cannot record union workers without their knowledge.

If you’ve been excited to document the birth of a child, good luck; to protect doctors and hospital staff, no video cameras are allowed in the delivery room. You and your friends all recorded snippets from your last concert venture (oops), and posted them on YouTube (double oops). You could get slapped with charges of copyright infringement  and other suits from the performers, songwriters, record labels, and others who have permission to film and distribute recordings of the performance.

To stay safe, always make sure you have permission from people you’re recording, and be careful when leaving a camera rolling — even in your own home.