Do Security Cameras Have Audio, and is it Legal?

While it's safe to assume that most security cameras also record audio, it's not always the case. Let's explore which types of security cameras use audio and what they use it for.

Do security cameras have audio?

Most modern Wi-Fi cameras (also called IP cameras) come with built-in microphones, which they use for three purposes:

  • Capture audio while recording video footage of a motion detection event. Recording audio can reveal useful information not captured on video, like arguments with a person out of frame or the sound of a vehicle driving away.
  • Some cameras use audio to trigger video recording so you don't miss important details that happen before motion detection kicks in.
  • Two-way audio uses a camera's built-in speaker like an intercom so you can talk with people near the IP camera using your mobile device. This is helpful for talking to family members without phones or issuing warnings to intruders.

A traditional surveillance camera system with video cables and a DVR typically doesn't have a microphone. You'll need to buy specific audio surveillance cameras and DVRs to record audio with these systems.

Light Bulb
Do outdoor cameras have audio?

Many outdoor cameras, including doorbell camera models, come with audio capabilities. You should place these in plain sight so people know they're on camera.

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How can you tell if a security camera has audio?

You can find microphones on security cameras near the lens. It usually looks like a pinhole, similar to what you can find on many kinds of headphones and smartphones.

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Can I turn off the audio recording on my home security camera?

You can usually turn off a security camera's audio recording function using the camera's mobile app or DVR menu. Look for the option under “settings” or “audio.”

Is it legal to record audio using my security camera?

Privacy laws in two-party consent states1 (all-party consent) make it illegal to record audio without the express permission of everyone being recorded. Here are the 12 states requiring two-party consent2

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington

All other US states are one-party consent states, which allow recording as long as one person in the recording gives consent. To be on the safe side, it's probably not a good idea to record audio if you're not present, either in-person or remotely using two-way audio.

Most states have privacy laws forbidding recording of any kind in places with a reasonable expectation of privacy like bathrooms, bedrooms, and private spaces owned by others.

It never hurts to double-check your state's security camera laws if you're unsure about setting up a camera legally. This article is for information purposes only and isn't a substitute for advice from a legal professional.

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Do you need signs if you have security cameras?

You don't usually need to post a sign about video surveillance if you have a security camera in your home. Some states require signs if businesses put cameras in areas where folks expect privacy, like dressing rooms3.  Even if it’s not legally required, we recommend using a sign if you have security cameras. It can help deter burglars from targeting your home and politely inform neighbors when your camera records public spaces like the sidewalk.

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Sources

  1. Digital Media Law Project, "Recording Phone Calls and Conversations," January 2021. Accessed August 11, 2021.
  2. Recording Law, "All Party (Two Party) Consent States," September 2017. Accessed August 11, 2021.
  3. Teo Spengler, Legal Beagle, "If I Put Up Surveillance Cameras, Do I Need to Post a Sign?," December 2018. Accessed August 11, 2021.
John Carlsen
Written by
John Carlsen
John is a technology journalist specializing in smart home devices, security cameras, and home security systems. He has over eight years of experience researching, testing, and reviewing the latest tech—he was the Smart Home Editor for Top Ten Reviews and wrote for ASecureLife before joining SafeWise as a Staff Writer in 2020. John holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications, Journalism emphasis from Utah Valley University. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, photography, cooking, and starting countless DIY projects he has yet to complete.

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