Is it illegal to record people without their consent?

Here are the main questions that will help you answer this question.

  • Does the individual or group you're recording have a reasonable expectation of privacy?
  • Did the owner of a private property give you permission to record?
  • Have you been asked, at any point, to stop recording?
  • Are you preventing someone else from doing their job?

Edited by Ben Jacklin

August 26, 2019

Is It Illegal to Video Record Someone Without Their Consent?

Whether you need evidence or you're putting together a video in a public space for another reason, you may find yourself wondering, "Is it illegal to video record someone without their consent?" You want to stay on the sunny side of the law, but you also may want to be able to put together a video in public. Let's break down the law:

Video Recording Laws: Is It Illegal to Video Record Someone Without Their Consent?

When you're in a public place or on a private property where you otherwise have the right to be – that is, the owner has given you permission to be there – you have the right to record video, including both visual and audio data. This extends to security cameras inside homes, and many states have upheld the decision of parents to record nannies, or family members to record caregivers for elderly loved ones, to ensure that those individuals are engaging inappropriate behavior while they're on the clock. Before pressing that record button, however, consider these key questions.

Does the individual or group you're recording have a reasonable expectation of privacy?

Obviously, if you're in the middle of a public park or at the local shopping mall, no one has any expectation of privacy. As a result, you're free to snap photos or take videos as you like. On the other hand, if you're in a private area where a guest should have a reasonable expectation of privacy, you may want to turn off that video camera and move to another location. Obviously, this includes areas like bathrooms, but it may also include private meetings and other areas where people expect to receive a reasonable level of privacy. If you're not sure, it's better to turn the camera off and move to a more public space.

Did the owner of a private property give you permission to record?

If you're on public land, you have the right to record as you desire. On private property, on the other hand, you'll want to take a moment and talk with the homeowner or property owner before you flip on your camera. Consider this scenario: you're in a friend's home, and their child does something absolutely adorable! You capture it on camera, but the child's parent asks you not to share it. In this scenario, you're better off deleting the video or keeping it just between the two of you.

Have you been asked, at any point, to stop recording?

In a private business, for example, the property is owned and operated by a specific corporation or individual. That entity has the right to request that recording not take place on the premises. In some cases, this is clearly displayed by a sign or other message. In other cases, workers in that location might come and specifically ask you to stop recording. Sometimes, they don't want their location displayed in your piece. Other times, they may want to protect the privacy of workers or other customers. In either case, once you have been asked to stop recording, you need to turn off your camera.

Do you own the property in question?

If you own the property in question, you have the right to record your guests, including recording them on security cameras they might not know about. However, you should not record guests in private areas, including bathrooms and the bedrooms where they sleep while staying with you.

Are you preventing someone else from doing their job?

In some cases, you might have the right to record, but your recording interferes with someone else doing their job. In this case, common courtesy says that you should get out of the way. If it's a police officer and your video recording interferes with their ability to do their job, you may actually be breaking the law.

Recording Conversations

According to Federal law, you can record conversations – both in person and over the phone – if at least one person involved in the conversation knows they are being recorded and has given consent for you to do so. If you're involved in the conversation, you're golden: you can choose to record yourself without needing to let anyone else know. However, while most states fall in with the Federal mandate, some states do have specific laws geared toward further protecting the privacy of everyone involved in the conversation. Twelve states – California, Nevada, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington – require consent from all parties before recording a conversation. In this case, simply being a party to the conversation yourself does not give you grounds to record it. Intercepting a communication with intent to record it is not legal in many states.

Maintaining Privacy While Recording in Public

While Federal law might not prevent you from recording in public, you may still want to provide a reasonable level of privacy for everyone around you. Consider some of these strategies:

Install a video editing program

Many video editors will allow you to blur faces in the background, preventing people in your video from being readily recognizable. This feature won't just protect the privacy of the people on video, it will also prevent any challenges that could arise if people discover they were recorded without their consent. Movavi Video Editor Plus, for example, has a montage feature that's perfect for this purpose.

Check state laws to see if you can use it in court

Some states allow video evidence, even video evidence with audio footage, to be used in court. Other states may throw out recordings made without permission. Is it illegal to record someone without their consent in your state, especially if you recorded a conversation without the other party's knowledge? Make sure you know your state's laws if you plan to use the video footage you gathered as part of a court case, whether it's a recording from a security camera or something you took deliberately. In most cases, however, you will be allowed to use video footage if you were otherwise legally able to record. Video recording laws by state, however, may vary, and voice recording laws certainly depend on the state.

Choose your locations with care

If you're planning to record video, especially video that you want to use for a film competition or to share online, choose locations with care. If you're recording in a private home or business, get consent from the owner before you begin. If you're going to be in a public place, make sure that it's one where people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Avoid recording in public locker rooms, bathrooms, and changing rooms. If you're planning to record in your own home, make sure it's not a place where people might otherwise expect privacy, and notify people if you're planning to record in an unexpected area.

Disclose what you're doing

If you're worried about problems that could arise from video recording in public, make sure that you notify people about what you're planning to do. You can post a sign about what you're doing and how you plan to use the footage in many public areas. Most people who are against having recordings made of them will remove themselves from the area.

As you engage in video recordings, make sure you keep the privacy and comfort of everyone on the recordings in mind. While you may not be able to make everyone happy, by understanding state law and knowing how to handle yourself appropriately, you can prevent the possibility of a lawsuit or other challenge over the material you've recorded, from a phone conversation to a recording made secretly.


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