Big Brother and his ever-watchful video-surveillance camera have been around since at least 1984.
But in a new millennium where everybody with a cell phone has a video camera, surveillance has even transcended Big Brother. Not only may government be watching, but the kid walking down the street may be policing the neighborhood. So what’s up with that, legally speaking?
In terms of usable evidence, it means that you never know who’s going to catch you in the act. Or better yet, get a camera and be prepared to act.
In New York, a police officer and his brother were caught in the act during a deposition over the use of an apartment. The officer was testifying that he often visited his brother at the apartment when the deposing lawyer confronted him with video-surveillance that showed he never visited him there.
The landlord had installed surveillance cameras on the site, and photos proved that neither the police officer nor his brother lived at the rent-controlled apartment. As a result, the landlord was able to prove the brother forfeited his lease rights. As a further result, the police officer and his brother pled guilty to committing perjury.
According to reports, video-surveillance is becoming an important tool in landlord-tenant disputes.
Home, Sweet Nanny Cam
People may legally record almost anywhere in their own homes, with some obvious restrictions. Parents may use a nanny cam to keep an eye on the babysitter performing her duties, but not in such a way as to violate privacy.
Basically, it comes down to an expectation of privacy. If video cameras are visible or if visitors are advised they are being recorded, they have no expectation of privacy. But if it involves hidden cameras or recordings, it may violate privacy rights and even criminal laws.
In many states, for example, it is considered illegal wiretapping to record a conversation without a person’s consent.
Wiretap While You Work, Not
Employers, like homeowners, may lawfully record activities on their property. It depends on the employee’s expectation of privacy and the employer’s legitimate business interests.
It is legal and commonplace for retail stores, banks, restaurants, jewelers and other employers that interact with the public to use video surveillance for security or theft-prevention. Surveillance in their bathrooms and dressing areas, not so much.
Cameras that also record sound may also run afoul of wiretapping laws.