Security Camera Laws, Rights, and Rules

There’s no specific federal law governing when, where, and how to use security cameras. But that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. There are some national laws around privacy and consent that you need to consider. Plus, many cities, counties, and states have their own regulations.

In this guide, we’ll break down your rights and the laws to know to stay out of trouble when it comes to installing and using a security camera.



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Federal security camera laws and regulations

While there’s no specific federal law that regulates how to use a home security camera, there are national consent and privacy laws that apply to video surveillance. There are also different regulations for recording audio and video footage.

Expectation of privacy laws

In the US, it’s usually legal for you to install a residential security camera and record video. But US citizens are also guaranteed a reasonable expectation of privacy, which extends to video recording.

That means you can’t record people anywhere that is typically considered a private place (e.g. the bathroom). Likewise, you have the right not to be filmed in those same areas. Here are the most common places where a security camera could get you into trouble:

  • Bathrooms
  • Bedrooms
  • Changing rooms
  • Locker rooms
  • Hotel rooms
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What is a reasonable expectation of privacy?

An easy way to remember what falls under the “reasonable expectation of privacy” is to think about times when you would normally draw the blinds or close the door—changing clothes, using the restroom, showering, etc.

Bottom line, if you wouldn’t normally do it in public, it probably shouldn’t show up on any of your home security footage.

Consent laws

Consent laws dive into whether or not it’s legal to record someone on video or audio without their permission. On the national level, it’s legal to record a conversation—either in person or over the phone—if you have at least one person’s consent. This is called the “one-party consent” law. It means that as long as you are part of the conversation that you’re recording, it’s legal for you to record it.

The one-party consent law doesn’t cover video surveillance, but if there’s a conversation involved, the rule applies. Because most security cameras record audio as well as video, you should operate your camera with the one-party consent law in mind.

Security camera laws by state

Where video surveillance laws get tricky is on the local and state levels. Some states have stricter security camera laws than what’s permitted by the federal government. Currently, 15 states have specific security camera laws. In states without specific laws, you should check with your local city and county government to make sure it’s okay for you to install that outdoor camera.

Video surveillance laws by state

This table breaks down the 15 states with security camera laws and notes where video surveillance is allowed and under what circumstances.

State
Public places allowed
Private places allowedIcon Tooltip  Dark
Hidden cameras allowed
Consent requiredIcon Tooltip  Dark
Alabama
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Alabama
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
In private places
California
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon No  LightNo
Delaware
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
With consent
Icon Yes  LightYes
Florida
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Georgia
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon No  LightNo
Hawaii
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Kansas
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
With consent
Icon Yes  LightYes
Maine
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
With consent
Icon Yes  LightYes
Michigan
Icon Yes  LightYes
With consent
With consent
Icon Yes  LightYes
Minnesota
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
New Hampshire
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
With consent
Icon Yes  LightYes
South Dakota
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
With consent
Icon Yes  LightYes
Tennessee
Icon Yes  LightYes
With consent
With consent
Icon Yes  LightYes
Utah
Icon Yes  LightYes
With consent
With consent
Icon Yes  LightYes

*In California it’s illegal to make a video recording of any communication considered confidential, regardless of consent.

†Georgia allows video surveillance in private and public settings, but the cameras must be in plain sight.

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What about hidden cameras?

In general, hidden cameras are allowed as long as you stick to the reasonable expectation of privacy and one-party consent rules.  Plus, 11 of the 15 states with home security camera laws explicitly allow them—with caveats. In three states, the hidden camera must be in a public place, and in the remaining eight you need the consent of the person being recorded.

Security cameras and privacy

Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, adding a simple doorbell camera or a full-on surveillance system is a smart security move. Burglars have even said that a home with a camera outside isn’t worth the trouble.

But what about all the activity your camera picks up that isn’t a possible burglar? Is it okay to install a security camera that’s aimed at your neighbor’s house? Can law enforcement demand your video footage?

Those are just a few of the privacy issues that get people tied up in knots over surveillance cameras. Unfortunately, privacy is rarely a simple issue. To help unravel some of those knots, we’ve got answers to the most commonly asked questions about security cameras and privacy.

Are security cameras an invasion of privacy?

No. The simple act of installing an outdoor camera to keep an eye on your home (or kids, or pet) isn’t a privacy violation. Where it gets murky is how you use your security camera and its video footage. Here are a few times when a security camera may be an invasion of privacy:

  • Your camera can see into a neighbor’s home, especially if you can see private places like a bedroom or bathroom.
  • You have a camera in a private place in your home.
  • You use a hidden camera without consent in states where consent is required.

Can my neighbor video record me on my property?

Yes—as long as your neighbor is only recording activity that happens in public places, like the yard or driveway. Because outside areas that are in public view have no reasonable expectation of privacy, a recorded image from a public place isn’t a violation of privacy.

The exception is if your neighbor’s video camera picks up audio conversations without your consent. In all 50 states, the one-party consent rule applies, so this could be both a privacy and a legal violation.

Is it illegal to put cameras in your child’s room?

Technically, it probably is. Baby monitors have become the norm for parents of newborns, but a camera in a bedroom is a violation of the expectation of privacy rule. And let’s be real, your baby isn’t going to complain about an invasion of privacy, but it gets tricky if you have a nanny or visiting relatives who also get caught on camera when they’re putting the baby down.

If you live in one of the states that allows cameras in private places, this is a non-issue. For everyone else, one solution is to turn off the camera unless the baby is sleeping alone in their room. When it comes to bigger kids, think about why you want a camera in their room and look for other (totally legal) ways to keep them safe.

Can a law enforcement officer demand my video footage?

No. Recorded images from your home security camera are your private property. If law enforcement asks to see your footage to help with an investigation, you have the right to say no.

But if you’ve already posted security footage online or in an app like Ring Neighbors, the shared footage is no longer private. However, you don’t have to supply additional footage if investigators ask.

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Ring, privacy, and the police

Ring has grabbed a lot of headlines for both privacy issues (cameras getting hacked) and its partnerships with police across the country. The original idea was to help citizens and law enforcement work together to make communities safer, but the execution got a little messy.

To find out more, read our Ring FAQ or watch our videos about Ring doorbell legal issues and its police partnerships.

Do I have to post a sign for video surveillance?

No. Posting signs for security camera recording isn’t legally required, especially if the camera is in plain sight in a public place. It’s more common to see video surveillance signs posted for businesses, not private residences. If you want to avoid potential consent issues (particularly if your state requires it) posting a sign could save you future headaches.

Video recording vs. audio recording

Residential security camera laws are convoluted enough, but the different regulations for video and audio recording make it even harder. Here is our cheat sheet to help keep it all straight:

  1. Video recording in public places is allowed in all 50 states.
  2. Audio recording—even as part of a video—falls under the one-party consent rule, which means at least one person has to give consent to the recording to make it legal.
  3. 11 states require all parties to give consent for audio recording
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington

When in doubt, err on the side of caution. If you’re not confident that your audio or video surveillance ensures others a reasonable expectation of privacy, don’t do it.

FAQ

If the camera is on your neighbor’s property, you can’t physically block the camera’s lens or recording device. The best way to avoid getting caught on your neighbor’s security camera is to block your activity from view. Whether it’s closing the curtains or putting up a well-placed patio umbrella, your best bet is to shield your property from prying eyes.

Neighbors can (and some certainly will) complain about a CCTV system, but whether or not that complaint has any grounds is a different matter. If your neighbor is worried that your video surveillance cameras are looking into their home, it’s reasonable for them to discuss the matter with you.

Because your concern should be the safety of the people and pets on your property, it should be easy to adjust your security camera placement to make sure it’s not prying where it shouldn’t be. But if your neighbor runs to law enforcement or the neighborhood HOA first, it’s unlikely that their complaint will get you into trouble—unless your camera is violating the expectation of privacy rule.

Surveillance that violates the expectation of privacy rule or captures audio or video without proper consent (where applicable) is illegal. To make sure you’re not recording illegally, check with your local city and county guidelines before setting up home security cameras.

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past eight. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime reports and spotting trends. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, NPR, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips.

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