I’ve seen the question often repeated, what are my rights relative to my neighbor’s wireless surveillance camera? One visitor noted that their neighbor’s camera overlooks their back yard. They feel their privacy is being violated. Another visitor shared that he found himself in a heated verbal altercation over his home security camera facing his neighbor’s home. Though he was only trying to cover the front of his own house, the neighbor’s house across the street falls in the field of view. Both situations bring up questions about rights associated with security cameras; both the rights of the owner and the rights of those who may come into view.

Our previous post listed some states in which surveillance laws apply but these dealt specifically with hidden surveillance cameras. The questions we’re addressing here are ones in which the presence of the camera is not intentionally hidden and the footage being captured is outdoors. That’s significant. In one of our previous posts we discussed privacy rights as apply to public and private settings. In a private setting such as a hotel room, bathroom, locker room or in one’s own home, laws are designed to protect an individual’s reasonable right to privacy. Outdoors, however, in public settings, things change substantially.

When considering your rights, ask yourself the following questions:

Does my camera look into a person’s window AND provide a clear view of activity inside their home? If so, you are invading their right to privacy on at least some level. While it might be argued that the occupant has an obligation to close their blinds if they’re going to be walking around in the nude or something lest they be seen by a passerby, they still have the right to expect a reasonable degree of privacy. Where the camera violates this right is that it is ongoing, constant surveillance and, therefore, crosses the line in violation of several “peeping Tom” laws. By the same token, a security camera may well have a neighbor’s window in its field of view but the resolution at such a distance is so terrible as to make any claims to privacy invasion nearly laughable. Ask yourself how easily you might be able to set your neighbor’s mind at ease here by letting them see just how distorted the view of (or into) their home really is.

Does my camera overlook only the exterior of the person’s home or yard with no reasonable capability of seeing activity inside the house? This question brings us back to the private vs. public settings issue. Under the law, I’d be perfectly within my rights to sit on my porch and stare across the street at your front yard for as long as I felt the urge to do so. While certainly creepy, I wouldn’t be violating your rights in the process. By the same extension, it’s likely my camera isn’t either, particularly if there’s been no effort made to hide the presence of said camera. Were you to feel committed to taking me to court over the matter, you’d likely lose. That’s particularly the case if I could show that your home simply falls into the line of view of my camera as I try to protect my own property and no effort is being made to single you out.

As the unwanted and unintended subject of somebody else’s surveillance efforts, you may not have any recourse but to accept that you fall into the field of view of your neighbor’s camera. Providing you aren’t sneaking bodies in and out of your home at night, what are you really worried about here? Everybody in view of your home can see your front yard. You should also stop and consider what your neighbor is trying to accomplish. Again, if they are only trying to protect their own property but your home falls into the line of sight, ask to see an example of the footage resolution. If it doesn’t provide a clear view of activity going on inside your home then you likely have little or no legal recourse. You might even want to consider the bonus of knowing that your neighbor is inadvertently protecting your home at the same time he’s protecting his own. Should your home be burglarized, his camera might well make the difference between recovering your possessions or never seeing them again.

Regardless whether you are the viewer or the viewee, consider consulting an attorney if you are still uncertain where you stand but committed to finding a solution. Again, this blog can’t possibly cover all possible circumstances in all possible jurisdictions dealing with wireless surveillance cameras. Though your lawyer may tell you nothing you haven’t already read here, laws may be different in your neck of the woods.

Fake Security Cameras

Even if you opt to use a fake security camera, if you’ve done your work well your neighbors will be just as fooled as a potential criminal. While the easiest solution to setting their mind at ease might be to simply advise them the camera is fake, you should avoid doing so. Remember that criminals take advantage of neighbors and often gather information from them. People are trusting and may give away the fact that your home surveillance cameras aren’t real.

Your better option is to point the camera in such a way that it still appears to protect your property without pointing at your neighbors. They won’t feel violated, won’t be inclined to ask to many probing questions and you won’t have to let anybody know that you’re using a fake security camera.

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Comments

j on 10 December, 2008 at 6:15 pm #

What if your property is in the woods and your neighbors cut down several trees on the property line to improve the view of the security camera? Also they have the camera far from their actual home in order to see who is coming up the driveway.


P. on 1 January, 2009 at 3:32 am #

Since my new drug addict neighbors moved in they have caused problems with residences left,right (me)and behind his house and businesses accross the street.He set up cameras today and it overlooks property line and into my entire back yard to keep an eye on the folks behind his house. Is this legal?His 3 dogs attack pedestrians weekly and his late night activities are to blame. Local law enfoorcement and animal control have been called out at least 20 times in 2008 and nothing has been done. I discharged a shotgun to ward off his 3 dogs attacking kid on my property Feb. 2008 and was arrested. Charges dropped thanks to community support letters.Back to his camera’s, is this invasion of my privacy?


Dave on 5 January, 2009 at 5:35 pm #

J - If the trees in question straddle the property line, there may be a legal dispute in that alone as the trees are, essentially, equally owned.

Even if the trees are on the neighbors property, there may be legal action possible. Eye-sore and property devaluation suits have been won in the past when a neighbor changes the landscape on their own property but the result negatively impacts another person’s property value. You’d need a lawyer to assess the real value of your case there.

As to the placement of the cameras, the neighbor is fairly well protected here as, regardless of proximity to their home, the cameras are still on their property and, as you stated, situated to observe their own driveway. As such, they are securing their own property and not intentionally violating anybody else’s rights.

Dave


Dave on 5 January, 2009 at 5:43 pm #

P - I’m terribly sorry for your circumstances. You want to speak with local law enforcement the next time they stop by (which sounds like it’s fairly frequently) to see if they feel your privacy rights are being violated. It’s pretty likely, though, that they aren’t. Remember laws vary from state to state and I am not an attorney so I’m not going to advise you specifically but will suggest (if the police can’t provide a clear answer) that you speak with a lawyer. Even if not technically against the law, you may be able to make a case for invasion of privacy and force your neighbor to point the camera overlooking your yard in a different direction.

At the end of the day you have to ask yourself if your neighbor could see into your yard simply by looking out his window. If so, even your fenced in back yard may be considered a “public” setting as far as privacy is concerned. Again, though, don’t just rely on the internet for your answers in this. It sounds like you’re in a very unpleasant situation and seeking good legal advice is your best course of action.


Concerned Non Camera Owner on 28 April, 2009 at 9:56 pm #

What if the camera (sony kind that moves and has audio) is 25 feet from your bedroom window? Our houses are appr 25 feet apart and my neighbor has 2 facing my house. I feel VERY uncomfortable because my closet is right there and outside it is even worse.

I understand the argument of “he could be sitting on his front step staring” or even looking out a window but at least I could tell him to ‘get a life’. Sitting inside his house watching us is a heck of lot more creepy.


Natalie on 4 June, 2009 at 3:55 pm #

What if a website has camera’s pointing at homes and roads and are letting people watch them?


Stevie on 27 June, 2009 at 2:09 pm #

We had druggie neighbors and called the Sheriff time after time, many of us called. Nothing. We called the drug detail, Nothing. HOWEVER, when an anonymous complaint is called into 911 from another set of whacko neighbors, and the complaint is loud music (8 pm at night) the sheriff shows up to the home, apologizes for being there b/c he or she can’t hear any loud music (it is non-existent) and goes on to do real cop work (we hope). My point: Focus on getting the druggies out if you have to go to State Atty Office or FBI. (druggies by us finally left on their own accord but the Brevard Co. FL Sheriff Dept. did absolutely nothing.)
Whackos still around and call 911 at the drop of a hat AND they have surveillance cameras pointed all around the perimeter of their property looking out all around to all property that borders on theirs. Brevard County says it is legal. There is a camera posted on their mailbox post! We all point it out to as many people as we can so everyone knows of its existence.


Dave on 17 July, 2009 at 5:10 am #

Concerned - There’s a thin line between being casually observed and being “peep’d.” A camera clearly positioned with no other purpose other than to spy into your window probably violates your local peeping tom laws and should, at the very least, prompt you to contact the authorities to determine if that’s the case. (note: call the non-emergency number and ask for this appraisal, NOT 911.)

At the very least, the police may humiliate the guy by knocking on his door and advising him of the impropriety of his camera placement. Again, laws vary, but if he is in violation of the law, he’ll be forced to move the cameras or face the risk of a court summons.


Dave on 17 July, 2009 at 5:15 am #

Natalie - That depends on what’s being recorded. If the cameras are facing directly into an unwitting (and unwilling) person’s window with the specific intent of recording them in the privacy of their own home, that would constitute a clear privacy violation in most places. If the camera is facing the street and at a reasonable distance (not directly attempting to peep into a person’s window but just capturing a general scene) then there’s no violation. Otherwise, you’d have to get use consent every time you took a picture outdoors.

Think of Google map’s 3d drive along view. In most cases, it’s completely legal (though some are trying to fight it and have done so successfully in some cases). The point is, unless there is a clear effort to violate an individual’s privacy, there’s not much law enforcement can do about it. Unless the effort crosses that peeping-tom line, it’s ok.


Linda on 26 July, 2009 at 9:10 pm #

My neighbors have put cameras facing my property and some of them are on my property. They have small hidden ones and are hard to find. I am the only one that drives down this lane but they have it under surveillance. This lets them know when I am gone. We live in the woods and noone else sees my house. They can’t either without the cameras. My house has been vandalized twice this year. Doors broke in but nothing stolen. Damage that costs up money. How can I find all the cameras? I really need to know.


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