Having a hidden camera can be a great solution to knowing what's going on, but only when you use it correctly and legally. In the U.S., it is typically legal to have cameras in your home to record surveillance footage. You don't even have to inform the people being recorded, in most cases. 'Nanny cams' are becoming more and more popular among parents who want to protect their homes while they're gone and make sure their children are well cared for. However, every state does have different laws regarding hidden camera usage and the topic of consent. Therefore, it's important to do your research and make sure that you are using cameras accordingly so that you don't create evidence that you can't use for anything that might occur.
In most states, there is a rule known as 'reasonable expectation of privacy'. This basically states that you can't put hidden cameras in bathrooms, bedrooms, or other places where people assume that they have privacy, and need said privacy. For example, if you have a live-in nanny, having a camera in the bedroom might not be acceptable. You would have to check state laws to be certain, however, so that you can make the right decisions. Not every state has a 'reasonable expectation' expressly outlined in their laws, but you can't use that to assume that it is acceptable (legally or morally) to record people without their consent in places like the bathroom or changing areas.
Audio vs. Non-Audio Recording
Audio and video surveillance are two entirely different topics. A lot of people don't realize that. The information covered so far refers to standard video surveillance. Audio recording is a much more sensitive issue, but the laws are also much more explicit. Federal law states that at least one party must consent to the audio recording. Most states have a law that is similar, known as 'one party consent'. There are a few states that require two-party consent, in which you have to inform someone that they are being recorded. These states include:
In any other state, one-party consent is allowed and agreeable for audio recordings. Phone calls and private conversations that you are NOT involved in are typically illegal to record. Unless you could naturally overhear this discussion, at least one person involved in the conversation needs to consent. You also usually can't put recording devices in homes, offices, or other places to record conversations and interactions between two people who haven't given consent. At least one person needs to consent to the recording, in most cases.
Getting to Know the Laws about Hidden Cameras
Since every state has laws that are slightly different, you have to make sure that you know when and where you're allowed to use hidden cameras for surveillance. Also, since the laws on audio and video recording are so different, you will have to learn whether it is permissible to have hidden cameras with audio or if you can only record basic surveillance footage without consent of the people being recorded. When you go into some homes or businesses, you will see signs stating that you may or may not be under video surveillance. By entering, you essentially give consent, which allows much more freedom in what can and cannot be recorded with the cameras in such a place.
Having hidden cameras in your home or business is a great way to protect your family, employees, and your assets. It's important, however, that you take the time to learn the laws so that you know what you are up against. The last thing that you want to do is take the time to set up all these hidden cameras only to discover that you can't use the footage in any legal scenario because it doesn't follow the specific state laws regarding surveillance video and hidden cameras that are applicable to you. Not only do you need to know federal laws, but you should learn what your state says about hidden cameras, as well.
Beyond the 'reasonable expectation of privacy', most people will be able to record anything and everything that they desire without the consent of the people being recorded. However, some states will say different when it comes to things like consent and 'acceptable use' of hidden cameras. Make sure that you get the facts so you can put your cameras to work legally and effectively.