Street Law School: My Neighbor’s New Video Camera Faces My House! Now What?

You have just noticed that your neighbor’s front door camera directly faces your door and/or window. With the new motion sensitive video surveillance systems and online cloud storage of all video, you are recorded every time you open the door. Maybe this makes you uncomfortable, and you feel a loss of privacy. But is this illegal?

It is estimated that the average American is caught on camera more than 75 times each day. We are all recorded more than we realize, and while sometimes it makes us feel safer, other times it makes us uncomfortable, or worse, feel violated. For better or worse, being recorded is now a fact of life. Our society and legal system have been playing catchup with this growing trend to regulate the use of cameras and punish people who abuse the technology. Unless your neighbor is misusing the video recorded, perhaps by posting it on social media sites, there is likely not much that can be done.

Property owners have the right to place cameras in and around their home for security reasons. The cameras should either be easily noticeable, or there should be signs warning visitors that they are being recorded. The cameras should not be used to record neighbors or anyone where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as inside their house, a hot tub, or any place where that person would expect that no one is looking at them without their permission or knowledge.

Penalties for being a video “peeping tom” are severe. Oklahoma Statute §21-1171, commonly known as the “Peeping Tom” law, prohibits the use of video equipment in a clandestine manner to record others without consent in areas where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This law does not affect your right to a home surveillance system unless your cameras are recording any private area of your neighbor’s property (i.e. interior rooms, fenced backyard, etc.).

Once you have a properly configured security camera system installed, you should be aware of your rights and responsibilities to operate the system. Oklahoma Statute §13.176.3 prohibits anyone from intercepting or disrupting your security camera signals, either to your internal storage device or to an external monitoring center.

Another Oklahoma law, Oklahoma Statute §21-1993, prohibits others from tampering with or disabling your security cameras. This can include covering the camera lens, manipulating the signal, disconnecting the device, or destroying any part of the system.

If someone does record you without your knowledge and permission when you are somewhere that should be private, the law will look at the intent with which you were recorded. If your neighbor’s door camera was for security and positioned so that it just happened to see inside your home as you entered and exited (a time when you might not normally expect privacy), then it would likely be legal. But if your neighbor has set up cameras to be a high-tech Peeping Tom, he very well may be committing a crime.

By court decision, Oklahoma already recognizes a limited cause of action in tort founded on invasion of privacy. Munley v. ISC Financial House, Inc., 584 P.2d 1336 (Okl. 1978). In addition 21 O.S. 1971 § 839.1 prohibits appropriation for one’s own benefit of another’s name or likeness and makes such appropriation a misdemeanor. Section 839.2 provides a cause of action for damages resulting from the appropriation.

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