Let’s be honest. Hidden cameras, especially those that are disguised as other objects, are cool. They can make you feel like you’re in your own spy movie. But unless you’re actually a spy, there are some serious legal and ethical questions involved with their use.
This hidden camera (which is designed to look like a normal wall charger) is kind of creepy. But will you end up in jail if you use it? Here’s what you should know.
Are Hidden Cameras Legal?
The short answer is: it depends.
For the most part, it’s generally legal to use a hidden camera to record activities going on in your own home. Public property (like retail stores or parks) is also generally fair game.
For small business owners, there are no firm federal or state laws that prohibit hidden cameras in the workplace if you’re the owner. Of course, if a union is involved, the rules may differ.
There is one big exception to the above rules: places where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Bathrooms, locker rooms, and even bedrooms come to mind (and you should not be considering recording someone in those places, anyway).
Similarly, things get a lot tricker when audio recording is involved. Across the board, the laws governing covert audio recording are a lot stricter — in many states, you need the explicit permission of the people you’re recording to do so lawfully.
It’s worth noting that all of the above goes right out the window if you’re expressly recording video (or audio) with blackmail or other malicious intent in mind. This carries criminal charges. So don’t do it.
Of course, you also shouldn’t take this as legal advice. If you have any questions or doubts, be sure to research the laws in your own state — and talk to an attorney about your specific use scenario.
Are Hidden Cameras Ethical?
Whether covert video recording is legal is one thing, but answering whether or not it’s ethical is a bit tougher.
For security or safety purposes, a camera in your own home can be a great boon (even if it’s hidden). Maybe you’d like to monitor a new babysitter or nanny, or just keep tabs on your place while you’re away.
Just make sure not to record audio, and don’t put the camera anywhere that’s considered a private place.
Keeping a hidden camera (without audio) in a business area where money or finances are involved might be smart. But, of course, it’s a best practice to let your employees know about the camera beforehand.
It’s harder to justify recording hidden video in a public place. But that’s an ethical question you can probably answer yourself, based on your intent.
There’s also the ethics of what you’re doing with the video. If it’s just a feed for security purposes, it’s probably morally acceptable. But if any iffy or malicious intent is involved, or you distribute the video publicly without the person’s consent, then you’re probably in the wrong.