What Are the Laws on Outdoor Surveillance Cameras for Home?

by Julien Raby
by Julien Raby
Last Updated: May 11, 2020

Nowadays, many homeowners are taking their safety into their own hands by installing their own home security systems. An indispensable part of those systems tends to be surveillance cameras. However, adding security cameras is not as easy as it sounds. 

Security cameras are a great way to keep your home safer, but they can also get you into some legal trouble. If you are considering installing surveillance cameras at your house, take a minute and check out our article to learn about what privacy rules you should be following. 

What Does the General U.S. Law Say?

In general, you can record in a public place if there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. A reasonable expectation of privacy refers to any place that is assumed to be private. This can be bathrooms, lockers, changerooms, shower areas and bedrooms. 

In the case of your home, this means you can place your cameras outside your home and inside your home as long as you avoid those areas with expectations of privacy. So, if you do not remember any details about privacy laws and surveillance cameras, just remember this general rule of thumb. It’s a safe bet. 

Security Cameras & Neighbor’s Property

To start, no one has a legal right to privacy if they are in clear view of the public. In other words, an individual in a public setting can be photographed and recorded. It is how paparazzi get away with photographing celebrities and the very same can apply to your neighbors. 

If your camera in the front yard happens to capture your neighbor, you will not need to call your lawyer because technically it is legal. If your camera happens to just capture your neighbor’s front lawn, it’s okay. It is in the public eye and therefore, it is legal for you to record. 

What is not legal, however, is if your security camera captures activity inside your neighbor’s home. Every homeowner has the legal right to the expectation of privacy in their own home. If your camera does record the inside of their home, the law counts that as monitoring or eavesdropping on your neighbors, which actually opens you up to potential criminal prosecution. 

Rules on backyards are not as clearly defined as rules on the interior of your neighbor’s home. Rules on backyards depends on how much effort your neighbor has put into blocking the public view. 

It is best that your security camera avoids backyards that have high fences, bushes, trees or other material to block views from the ground level. In these instances, privacy is being enforced and to record would be in direct violation of that. 

Security Cameras in Your Own Home

When it comes to installing cameras inside your home, you definitely have more freedom. However, there are still laws you have to follow. Just because it is your home, it does not mean you have unlimited rights to record anything and everything. 

Anyone entering your home still have legal rights to expectations of privacy in specific areas. The most obvious answers here are in the bathroom and likely in the bedroom as well.

However, the rules are different for burglars or trespassers. Burglars and trespassers waive their rights to privacy when they break into your home. So, anything you record of them inside your house is fair game. 

Can You Record Conversations?

Now, we have established that placement of video cameras is incredibly important to avoid law violations. But what about audio? 

Audio recording has completely different rules than video recording. Due to federal and statewide laws against wiretapping, you are not allowed to record conversations. This includes inside your own home. 

Moreover, if you do record a conversation, you have to have the permission or consent of at least one participant. However, the rules vary depending on your state. In some states, if you are in the conversation, you count as the consenting individuals. 

In other states, all participating parties have to consent to being recorded. That being said, always do your research on your specific state and find out what audio recording laws apply to you. 

Check Your Jurisdiction & Home Owners Association

On that same note, do your research on all the video and audio recording laws in your jurisdiction. That means, take a look at the privacy laws on the federal level, state level, county level, and local level. You want to be as thorough as possible if you want to avoid running into legal trouble. 

Also, check out your Home Owners Association laws. In particular, this applies if you live in a residential subdivision, a planned community, or condos. HOA may have some restrictions on your security camera placement that are different or more specific than the general laws we listed above.

For example, if your camera has a direct view of your neighbor’s backyard or of a shared community space, like a clubhouse, pool or tennis court, it can be considered a private space because it is collectively owned by the HOA.

In general, doing your research will pay off in the long run. In many ways, researching the laws and following them accordingly can save you time, money, stress, lawsuits and legal fees. And in general, it is better for everyone if you operate your security camera in a legal and safe way. 


Surveillance cameras are quickly becoming more and more popular among homeowners each day. With the number of high-quality security cameras on the market now, it is easy to think you can just install your cameras and go. 

However, as concerned as you are about your own privacy and safety, you also have to be mindful of other people’s privacy and safety. As harmless as it seems, a video camera can present a much bigger threat to people’s privacy than you think. 

As such, it is best to educate yourself on security camera placement laws. If you do, you can avoid legal trouble and enjoy a much safer home and lifestyle. If you have any comments, let us know!

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