Surveillance cameras are everywhere. The fronts and sides of many cars are equipped with cameras and processing software, the rooftops of commercial buildings are crowned with hidden surveillance equipment and even traffic lights incorporate cameras to catch unsuspecting motorists speeding through a yellow-to-red light.
Surveillance cameras are as ubiquitous these days as, well, smartphones, which have their own cameras, of course. Were it not for the hidden devices, the perpetrators of the tragic Boston Marathon bombing might not have been identified and apprehended. Even visible security cameras have a positive effect, deterring possible criminal activities.
While all this may seem a bit “Big Brother-ish,” an actual video recording of someone perpetrating a crime is a lot more reliable than eyewitness accounts in a courtroom. These benefits explain why the market for surveillance cameras is on a tear, growing at a compound annual rate of 19.1% and expected to reach $42 billion in global sales by 2019, according to a 2014 study by Transparency Market Research.
Not just law enforcement and private enterprises like banks rely on hidden cameras; so do many high-net-worth families. It is common for numerous surveillance cameras to be positioned throughout the homes of the wealthy in both visible and concealed locations. The devices eavesdrop on the humdrum of ordinary life to ferret out evidence of potential and actual crimes.
The shorthand for the equipment is the “gotcha cam,” as they are hidden inside teddy bears, wall outlets and clocks. Manufacturers of the gear are increasingly creative, embedding the pinhole cameras in wall outlets and even in pens and chewing gum dispensers. For good reason, too.
A quick search on the Internet unearths hundreds of examples where hidden surveillance cameras in the home caught unsuspecting perpetrators in the act of committing a crime, resulting in their arrest and conviction. Just knowing there are cameras surreptitiously recording the surroundings may dissuade potential offenders.
Nevertheless, there are disconcerting legal consequences for the improper use of the cameras. To learn more about the subject, I reached out to attorney Jack McCalmon, founder and CEO of The McCalmon Group, Inc. The Tulsa, Oklahoma-based firm assists companies and high-net-worth families in reducing the risk of employment practices liability.
“Depending on where they are or what they are doing, a person can have a reasonable expectation to privacy, which affects the use of hidden surveillance cameras,” Jack told me. “In some cases, the wrongful use of the cameras can result in costly litigation and criminal penalties. There are issues over where the camera is placed and whether or not it records audio. One must tread very carefully.”
Legal Parameters and Ramifications
Where a high-net-worth family resides in the United States is a factor in the legal use of surveillance cameras inside or outside the home. Different states have different laws on the subject. In many states, for instance, it is illegal to audiotape a conversation, unless both parties being recorded have previously provided their consent. Federal law also takes this posture. In other states, one-party consent to covert audio recordings is required.
Even if the audio recording indicates the occurrence of a crime in the home, the evidence will not be admissible in court. If the homeowner releases the content of the audio to the public, he or she is exposed to an invasion of privacy lawsuit brought by the recorded person.