Can my neighbor legally point a security camera at my property?

What level of privacy you can expect regarding neighbor's cameras depends largely on the law in your state.

Question

My neighbor has set up security cameras around his house. Based on where some of the lenses are pointing, I'm certain they're picking up activities in my backyard, including my back door. Is this legal? I feel like my privacy is being invaded.

Answer

Each of us likes to feel privacy, especially in our own backyard. There are few worse feelings than the feeling of being watched; it prevents one from fully enjoying one’s home.

What should you do if you see a camera trained on your backyard? First, give your neighbor a chance to explain himself. Write him a note, or knock on his door. Kill him with kindness in how polite you are when you approach: “I notice you seem to have a camera pointed right into my backyard! I’m sure you didn’t even realize, but would you mind pointing it elsewhere?” Few neighbors would be so unfriendly as to keep the camera in position after such a direct request.

Or perhaps this will be an opportunity for your neighbor to explain his apparent distrust. Does he mistakenly believe you stole something from him? Or does he mistakenly believe you are, or a member of your household is engaged in dangerous or illegal activities? Use this conversation to address not just the camera itself, but to explore your neighbor’s underlying intentions.  Perhaps his conduct will make sense once he explains his rationale.

If he does refuse to move the camera after the request or your invitation to dialogue, you might consider self-help options. Perhaps planting trees or shrubs will help, once they grow to block the view of his cameras. Similarly, you might install a tall lattice fence that will give your backyard some needed cover.

If you are still not able to block the camera, you may want to call an attorney. Different states have different laws regarding surveillance. In some states, mere visual recording is not illegal so long as the camera is on your neighbor’s property. In other states, visual recording is acceptable but any audio recording is not. And in other states, all forms of recording might face criminal or civil penalties. Generally, any publically viewable areas like back yards are fair game – which is how companies like Google can record their Street View images across the United States.

Regardless, a demand letter from an attorney might light the necessary fire under your neighbor to convince him that you will not submit to his unwarranted snooping, even if you would not ultimately proceed to court with such a claim.

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