March 2022 - Are You Obligated to Turn Over Your Home Security Footage?
Home surveillance systems are more commonplace today thanks to lower costs, easier-to-use functionality and, especially, the introduction of the video doorbell. The number of internet-connected cameras associated with Amazon’s Ring, Google Nest, and competing devices now range in the millions, and sales of these devices were projected to grow by 27% this year, according to a survey conducted by SmartHome.org.
Security cameras, including video doorbells, offer users convenience and security. They provide homeowners with a means to deter crime, protect their property and communicate with strangers without opening their doors. But there are legal questions to consider regarding these recordings.
What restrictions apply? Under the law, video recordings in areas where someone has a “reasonable expectation” of privacy are prohibited. In other words, you can’t point your cameras into your neighbor’s window or backyard, but you can record anyone walking down a public street or onto your personal property.
Am I obligated to share these recordings with others, including law enforcement? Many users opt to share with neighbors recordings they believe could be helpful. In fact, there is an app affiliated with one of the more popular video doorbells that allows for that. About one-third of the posts uploaded to that app report “suspicious” activity, while one-fourth relate to a crime and one-fifth to lost pets. Another popular post around here reports bear sightings.
From time to time, law enforcement officials may request security footage from homeowners if they think it will help in an investigation. One major video doorbell manufacturer has agreements with about 2,000 local law enforcement agencies across the country to facilitate such requests by emailing homeowners within a specified radius of the area under investigation.
While homeowners have the choice whether to comply with these requests, it is important to understand that footage previously shared online is considered public and no longer requires consent, and that law enforcement always has the option to obtain a warrant for the footage.
When it comes to sharing home security footage, let your moral compass be your guide.