It is legal to use a spy camera as long as you ensure that it is not in a location where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Also, another key legal factor is the intended purpose of the recording. It should be to protect and monitor rather than for malicious intent such as blackmail.
Whenever we discuss spy cameras the number one question that immediately crops up is surrounding the legality of spying.
As we will see in the article below the answer can vary depending on a number of factors including where the camera is placed, who is being filmed and even what county you are located in.
The article will also show how this law is constantly being revised as new cases come to court.
Is it Legal to Use Spy Cameras in the USA?
It’s important to note that surveillance laws can vary ever so slightly from one state to another.
For this reason, it is worth double checking your local laws.
However, there is a lot of commonality throughout the USA.
The first consideration is if the recording is audio or video as the restrictions are a lot tougher with audio recordings.
This sounds counterintuitive but this is due to the fact that audio recording has been around for decades and therefore the law has matured as more and more cases were presented before the federal court.
In legal terms, video recording is relatively new.
It is often cited that the rule of thumb for a video camera is that it is ok to place a hidden camera in a property that you own unless subjects have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The obvious examples are bathrooms and bedrooms.
Along with the golden rule above, another key element is the intended purpose of the recording.
If the recorder has “malicious intent.” such as blackmail this can also affect the legality of the recording.
Likewise, if the act captured by the camera is illegal then it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of your rights are waived.
When recording using a hidden audio device, the rule is that the law requires one party to consent.
This essentially means that one of the participants on the call has given permission for the recording.
As stated above, laws can vary from state to state and this is a perfect example. The states California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington all require two-party consent.
Even more confusingly, Hawaii is different again. It allows one-party consent for audio recordings, but it requires two-party consent if the recording device is located in a “private place”.
Again, the intent is also key as is the legality of the act that is captured.
Is it Legal to Record with a Spy Camera in Public Areas Outside My Home?
The fact that it is a public area doesn’t change the law. The fall back considerations remain.
Does the public have a reasonable expectation of privacy? For example, if your camera looks onto a public road that it is perfectly legal.
However, if your camera which is attached to your property happens to overlook a locker room or somebody’s bedroom that it is not.
Is it Legal to Use Spy Cameras in the United Kingdom?
The laws in the UK do not deviate massively from those in the US.
Obviously, without states, the UK has a single law that governs all the UK, which includes Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
Again, the main two factors are “reasonable expectation of privacy” and intention.
The phone laws in the UK do vary slightly from those in the US.
The main difference is who is empowered to listen to your calls WITHOUT your permission.
As you might expect this includes the Police and various anti-terrorist agencies.
However, surprisingly this also includes HMRC ( HM Revenue and Customs).
This is the UK equivalent or the IRS.
So if the HMRC suspect you of not paying your taxes they can legally tap your phone.
This, however, must be a very rare event as it requires a warrant signed by the Home Secretary.
Also, it is perfectly legal to record any phone conversation you have with another person, without telling them.
This does, however, have a caveat, you can’t share the information with a third party, even if that is part of a legitimate investigation by the police.
That’s why phone call recordings made without consent are generally inadmissible as evidence.
Is it Legal for my Employer to Spy on Me?
The short answer is yes, employers are within their rights to spy on you without asking for your consent.
As within the home, the question of “reasonable expectation of privacy” is again applied.
So your employer can secretly record you at your desk but not in the bathroom.
However, despite the legal standpoint, it is generally accepted as a common courtesy to notify employees when they are being recorded.
In general, people do not like being recorded especially if it is without their permission. It is regarding a sneaky and underhand.
This etiquette is seen in action in larger companies where they normally work with the unions to broker an agreement where their workers are not only aware of the monitoring but also agree to the levels and location of the monitoring.
The rules above are also extended to work telephone conversations. It is generally accepted that if the call is monitored then both parties are informed however legally the company are not obliged to do so.
This does not extend to personal calls, which fit in the “Reasonable privacy” bracket.
Confusing this is still applicable if personal calls are not permitted as is the case at some companies.
That is seen as an infringement of company policy and an internal matter.
Monitoring of personal calls without consent is, however, a legal matter.
Is it Legal to use a Spy Camera in a Nursing Home?
The use of spy cameras in nursing homes is often called into question as it bridges two laws.
The care home is the home for the resident but the workplace for the carer.
The most common reason for somebody needing to go to a care home is dementia.
Therefore the most likely person to install the spy camera is a family member related to the resident and this even further muddies the water.
All these factors lead to the most common scenario which is that NEITHER party, the carer or the patient being filmed without either of them knowing.
In most situations this would be illegal……..but this is different.
This is legal for one reason, power of attorney. This is a legal document that is drawn up to allow a family member to act on their behalf. This covers elderly people as they start to struggle with everyday tasks.
The power of attorney document essentially means that the family member is acting on behalf of the patient and therefore one party (by proxy) is aware of the recording.
The carer has little legal recourse against this as they are in a place of work. As stated previously this is not including areas where the employee has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” such as changing rooms etc.
Is it Legal to track a Vehicle using a GPS Tracker?
The first main consideration is the ownership of the vehicle.
Unless you are a government agency with the relevant warrant then it is definitely illegal to track a vehicle you do not own.
Once we have established that you own the vehicle, it can get a bit more complicated…….
If the vehicle is owned by a company, they can track the vehicle without your consent.
This is because firstly they own it and secondly they are paying for your time so it can be argued that they have a reasonable case to know where you are.
When a person uses their company car for personal use it can get a bit more complicated depending on the agreement between the employer and the employee.
This is a law that has been under scrutiny recently and several landmark cases have been before the courts most notably the following.
Elgin v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in 2005
This is the first case of its kind and features an employee who took Coca-Cola to court as they were tracking the vehicle both during and outside of work hours. The court ruled in favour of Coca-Cola stating that as they owned the vehicle they had a right to know its whereabouts.
Tubbs v. Wynn Transport in 2007
This the second landmark case and was slightly different in that the employee was not notified that the company-owned vehicle was being tracked.
The claim from the employee was that this is an unreasonable breach of privacy. Although not very good etiquette, the law ruled in favour of the company again citing the fact that since they owned the vehicle they had the right to track it.
United States v. Jones in 2011
This case was a complete change of pace and instead was filed by a suspected criminal against the police.
In this case, the Police placed a GPS tracker on a suspected drug dealers car.
The evidence yielded from the GPS tracker was enough to convict the person.
However, the courts ended up ruling against the police, calling it a violation of the person’s Fourth Amendment rights. The charges were quashed.
Cunningham v. New York Department of Labor in 2013
This case reverts back to the question of employees rights however with one major change.
In this case, the employee was using his own car and was being tracked out of hours.
This seemed a very strong case for the employee as it seemed to breach the ‘reasonable privacy’ policy.
However, it came out in court papers that the employee had a history of falsifying his time reporting and therefore the court ruled the employer had reasonable grounds to track the vehicle.
What is the Legal Policy in the UK?
Although the UK does not have a US-style bill of rights (so the brits do not have the same rights) in this instance the law appears to favour the privacy of the individual.
These laws are documented in the Commissioner’s Code of Practice for Employees and the Data Protection Act 1998.
The Commissioner’s Code of Practice for Employees states that the GPS trackers are allowed for business tasks provided the driver is aware.
What can be monitored is also stipulated with only miles and hours being tracked.
During non-business hours the driver has the right to turn off the surveillance.
The Data Protection Act explicitly states that somebody can only be tracked if they have given permission.
This includes a spouse or child regardless of who owns the vehicle.
Recent Spy Camera Legal cases Featured in the Media
Case 1 – Major firms filming people while they shop
There has been a large scandal in the UK which has been covered by multiple media outlets but primarily the Daily Mail.
It is been discovered that major shops such as Boots, Asda and B&Q have commissioned an agency to film people in their shops to understand the shopping habits of their customers.
The scandal has been two-fold. Firstly, many customers feel this is a breach of their privacy.
Although legally that claim seems to on shaky ground. As covered above the focus is the interpretation of the term ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’. It can be argued that legally this is a shop and therefore a public place.
However, shoppers are liberty to vote with their feet and many customers have stated that with this knowledge they will be using their competitors to get their goods.
The other element of this story which has caused outrage is the intention of the footage. The film who are performing the footage – SBXL, a little-known behavioural analysis agency intend to use the footage to manipulate customers into buying more goods.
The investigation into these practices also unearthed the shocking fact that the filming worked.
SBXL was called in by Mars, a company who sell several types of pet food. They then proceeded to work with Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s to sell more pet food.
They found that when placing a guilt trip on owners by putting cute pictures of puppies and kittens next to the treats, it resulted in a 15 per cent increase in sales, worth £106 million at Tesco and £20 million at Asda over a year.
Case 2 – AirBnB Spying
Where the shoppers spying scandal was a perfect example of companies working inside of the law but falling foul of public opinion, the Airbnb scandals have been more clear cut.
There has been a recent spate of people checking into Airbnb properties only to discover they are being spied on illegally.
The first example was a clear cut case of illegal spying.
A Scottish man named Dougie Hamilton booked into an Airbnb in Toronto. It was only by luck that he discovered the hidden camera in the alarm clock. He happened to notice that the clock was wired like a phone charger.
Eventually, he took it apart and in his own words
“I took the charger out of it and saw there was a lithium battery in the back. At this point, I slid the front facing off the clock and could see there actually was a camera.”
Hamilton contacted Airbnb, which launched an immediate investigation.
The matter is now in the hands of the police.
The second case is not quite so straight forward. This is the story of a man named Jeffrey Bigham.
He booked into an Airbnb with his family. It was only after several days in the apartment that he started to question the device on the wall.
As I am sure you can guess, it was, in fact, a spy camera.
However, the story takes a turn as when he contacted Airbnb they said it was fine as the home guide had stated that there were cameras “at the entrance.”
Also, the picture also shows the camera so in Airbnb eyes this was proper disclosure of the camera.
Would you have spotted the camera in the Airbnb listing?
The law surrounding spy cameras is constantly changing and can be confusing.
However, the golden rule to adhere to is to think before placing the spy camera “Do the intended targets have a reasonable expectation of privacy”?
Place yourself in the shoes of the person being filmed.
Would you be happy to be filmed or would you consider it an infringement of your rights?
With the rise of CCTV in public spaces, the general public accepts that they are constantly being filmed but as we saw with the Airbnb and shopping scandals there are tipping points.
Once you are confident that your filming is legal, head over to this page Spy Cameras – Best of Breed which features the very best spy cameras to meet all your spying needs.