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HOME SECURITY CAMERAS AND VIDEO DOORBELLS

February 4, 2020

Security cameras have gotten smaller and less expensive. They’re now easy to use too, letting you monitor your property from your smart phone. Video doorbells, from Nest or Ring, are also growing in popularity. They let you see who’s on your porch or at the door. Privacy issues have been raised over this new technology. See “The Doorbells Have Eyes” in The Washington Post, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/01/31/doorbells-have-eyes-privacy-battle-brewing-over-home-security-cameras/. People have asked if they can get in trouble if one of these devices faces their neighbor’s house.

Eavesdropping and voyeurism.

In Kentucky it’s usually legal to have a security camera located on your own property that picks up images of someone else’s property, provided you’re not doing it for an illegal purpose. More worrisome is a situation where your security camera has a microphone and is picking up conversations that you are not a party to. Suppose someone rings your video doorbell. You can use the camera and microphone to see and talk to the visitor. That’s perfectly fine. Now suppose that in the doorbell video you can see the neighbor’s porch across the street and notice your neighbors are talking to each other. If you were able to hear what they were saying that would be eavesdropping and a Class D felony per Kentucky Revised Statute 526.020. This isn’t likely to be a problem, as microphones on video doorbells are unlikely to pick up voices away from your doorstep. When is video illegal? You can’t intentionally videotape someone else’s sexual conduct or private parts where a reasonable person would not expect to be videotaped. That’s voyeurism, a Class A misdemeanor per KRS 531.090.

Invasion of privacy.

Sometimes actions are not crimes, but can still lead to civil liability. Using a video camera to invade someone else’s privacy could lead to a lawsuit. The intrusion would have to be highly offensive to a reasonable person – mounting a camera on a high pole so you can see inside your neighbor’s second-story window or their fenced-off hot tub, for instance. A normal use of security cameras that only incidentally capture visible areas of your neighbor’s property should be fine. Depending on the circumstances, pointing a video camera or video doorbell at someone else’s property is likely not illegal in Kentucky. If the camera is capable of capturing sounds doing so might be illegal eavesdropping; illegal voyeurism is also a possibility depending on where, exactly, the camera is being aimed. Tort liability for invasion of privacy would be a remote possibility.

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This is a blog post, not specific legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is intended or created.

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