Can I Point A CCTV Camera At My Neighbors Hot Tub?

Here's a fascinating case - an Idaho man is pointing a camera at his neighbor's hot tub. Now, clearly this puts him in the running for 'worst person in the neighborhood' and he should expect to be ostracized but is it illegal???

His defense is that it is a dummy camera that just happens to be pointed that way. Here's a local news clip:

And here's a screencap of the camera, the house, the hot tub and the neighbor:

And here's the 'dummy' camera guy:

As the women reluctantly admits, in the US, this is likely perfectly legal, though obviously very distasteful. Does anyone know of specific laws or cases for or against this practice?


This would be illigal in the Netherlands. It's perfectly fine to hang up a camera in your backyard to watch your own property on the condition that every entrance to that property has a warning sign that there is a CCTV on the premesis. If it was a real camera he might been able to avoid legal action by using privacy masks, but it's still dubious as best.

If you, for example, have a front yard of 1 meter and a public street laying next to it, you would be breaking the law by hanging up a camera there, since you're viewing a public street and therefor are breaching the privacy of everyone on that street.
There was a man who had drunk people constantly wreck his pottery which was in his small front garden. So he put up a camera and posted the images online of the drunk people who committed the vandalism. End result, instead of looking for the drunks, the police wanted to have a word with the man due to him breaking privacy laws.

A training I once had, had a great example of bad CCTV sign. A sign that says "Smile, you're on camera" is illigal, as the people have no way of avoiding that camera anymore. They're already being filmed.

OT: I love how people always think that if a 'camera' has a blinking light it must be real.......

Hi,

what Rogier writes for Netherlands is valid for all Europe, as most of the countries simply took over the European legislation and did not add anything specific.

As soon as you are able to identify persons/car plates that are not on your private area, you need an authrization for it from the state. And there, you have to indicate the field of views of each camera and motivate why you have to view this area. You would never get the authorization for this in our country (Luxembourg).

But in the US, no idea....

Rogier, Vigil,

Thank you for your feedback and yes that makes good sense to me. In Europe, privacy regulations/laws ar much more comprehensive / encompassing than the US. We discussed some of these differences in a survey of International Video Surveillance Laws / Regulations.

About 15 or 20 years ago, in Florida I think, a guy filmed a couple having sex in their bedroom next door from inside his own house ebecause the couple had their window open with no curtains. He said he had tried yelling at the couple that they could be seen, including by his kids in the house, but they either didn't hear him or ignored him. So he video taped them for evidence and called the police. I think he was later charged with invasion of privacy or something like that and the case went to court. The big question in the news of course was if the guy had the right to film anything he wanted outside that was clearly visible from inside his house.

I wish I could remember what exactly the final outcome was. I think maybe the case was dismissed and the neighbors moved away. I tried finding a link to the story, but it was 15 or 20 years ago, in Florida, and afetr all we only just got electricity 30 years ago. ;)

When I was having some issues with neighbors at my previous house I did some research before putting up a camera watching their driveway that was right next to my house. I found a case that decided that a drive way wa a semi private area even though it was viewable from the road. I don't understand how this is legal. On your private property you have certain rights which I would assume would include not being recorded.

Jason, can you remember any additional details for this case so I can try to find it?

Had to find it again. The two articles are what I based my decision on -

Surveillance Laws by State

Drive legally a "semi-private" area

The case Shafer vs. City of Boulder is pretty interesting (full complaint here). Neighbors say Curtis Shafer always had people coming and going and they suspected drug activity. He was actually arrested once on drug-related charges that were dismissed. The police used a Homeland Security grant to buy cameras and had an across-the-street neighbor mount them and aim them at Shafer’s house.

Shafer sued saying his neighbor and the police violated his 4th Amendment rights. The police say Shafer had no reasonable expectation of privacy because all of his other neighbors had private surveillance aimed at him already anyway (“the argument goes that Shafer had no subjective expectation of privacy because he was constantly on camera, and it is objectively unreasonable for someone who was under constant video surveillance to expect any privacy in his home”).

The trial started in 2010 and is still ongoing.

I wonder how much it matters that it was the police who had the neighbor do it for them.

The police vs private monitoring is an important differentiator. I do not know about the laws behind it, but city surveillance systems typically have guidelines in place that restrict the use of cameras to 'look' into private residences (through the use of privacy masks, etc.).

Exactly. When a judge makes a decision I think it will be interesting to see how government guidelines apply to this system.

It was unarguably a government system: It was purchased and used by the government for evidence. BUT it was on private property and operated as if it was a private system.

His choice of camera placement seemingly intends to deter all criminals chilling in the hot tub.

Also, doesn't publically admitting to installing fake cameras defy the point?

Also, if he really cared about criminals, he'd point it out towards the street, rather than the next door neighbor.

Looking at the layout, maybe he's afraid of people stealing stuff from his shed?

In any case, he could mount a dummy camera on the shed.

It looks like the Dummy Camera owner is just being a jerk, since everyone knows and admits that it is a fake camera. Nonetheless, the neighbor could easily raise a shield (like a 4x8 plywood screen) alongside the chain link fence to screen the Dummy's view. If I owned or were in the tub, I'd rather not have to even think about the voyeurs nearby.

Looking at the angle it appears his shed is in the way of the hot tub. Unless of course he is indeed fake watching his shed. That's probably where all the cooking takes place and also where the real pinhole cameras are located actually watching the hot tub. But only because the hot tub was installed over his buried treasure.

In our first home, my newlywed wife and I noticed that the neighbor had mounted a camera about 20' high in a tree looking downward directly into our breakfast room.

When we mentioned that the aim seemed to have gone astray, it was promptly pointed back into his own yard. A few days later a birdhouse appeared across from our bedroom. When the sun was right, you could just make out the telltale glint of a camera lens within.

Both county and homeowner's association regulations restricted fence height in our neighborhood to 8' and 5' respectively, so that reasonable remedy wasn't available.

We took it as a lesson to be more circumspect.

The ole birdhouse cam. Probably just documenting behavior of little hatchling birds.

Obvious solution?

A easy solution to the problem would have been for the guy to aim the 'fake' camera lower and be more accomodating to the privacy needs of the concerned neighbor. Otherwise the next time he is not home and the places get bothered by kids she will not call the cops.

He could have also removed the camera, in the presences of the neighbor, or and the TV crew , opened it up and showed that it is empty.

One wonders why these simple actions weren't taken.

To fix the problem she could just buy a cheap laser pointer, rig it for continuous power, and shine it into the offending 'fake' camera lens blooming it out. Of course if he then moves it afterwards he is spying on the hottube and should gets the 'creepy ass bald guy award' for that neighborhood.

I'm surprised nobody has suggested (that I've seen, anyway), the "Taste Of Your Own Medicine" solution: Hot Tub people put up a couple cameras of their own aimed at Camera Neighbor's house, and see what his reaction is.

Presumably they could but doesn't that underscore the inanity of this whole situation? The guy could easily re-position the camera to avoid a direct line of sight to the hot tub. Even if he really needs to monitor the shed, he could put it on the back of his house, angled toward the shed but out to the street OR on the shed looking at who approaches it. This guy is either a dunce or a perve.

"...doesn't that underscore the inanity of this whole situation?"

Exactly!

"I'm surprised nobody has suggested (that I've seen, anyway), the "Taste Of Your Own Medicine" solution:.. put up a couple cameras of their own aimed at Camera Neighbor's house, and see what his reaction is."

If he was a perv, they'd probably get video of him exposing himself.

Our regional singer Céline Dion once told her own story in regards to her second house in Florida. She said her privacy was continually been invaded on her own property. She said people go as far as using small drones with cameras to get shot at her and her estate.

Oddly enough, I was speaking with my neighbor ("Jay") who was walking her dog. Jay complained to me that her neighbor in the house behind hers had put cameras up. She (Jay) was uncomfortable with them because she felt the cameras were pointed towards her backyard and thus, invading her privacy. Jay wasn't sure if the neighbor could actually see into her backyard and didn't know how to find out. I told her to ask the neighbor if, in the event of a burglary, would the cameras pick up the activity in Jay's backyard. In taking this approach this would accomplish two things. First, Jay would be able to find out if the cameras did in fact "peer" into Jay's backyard and secondly, if they did then it would open an avenue for Jay to express her discontent about losing her privacy.

I can kind of understand this sense of losing one's privacy within the boundaries of your home. I actually have a neighbor right next door who has allowed one of her friends to park an RV next to her house and mine! The problem is that the person is living in the RV and can now look into my backyard. Nevermind the 6 foot block wall that surrounds my home as the RV windows fall just above the top of the wall. While I am most annoyed, I will be grateful if the person (a muscian) actually watches my backyard while we are out and about. Kinda annoyed but then...

Margarita,

That touches on an interesting trend. It's probably not 'odd' anymore to have neighbors with surveillance cameras, given how inexpensive and widely available they have become. This inevitably means that privacy conflicts over neighbor surveillance coverage are going to rise.

John, I agree with you... if the location opens a particular area up to the public such as your front yard then I understand putting up the cameras. However, if your yard is surrounded by other homes/yards where public access is completely restricted except to the homeowner, then I can see where folks will have a conflict. Such as in the case of my neighbor. Her back yard is completely surrounded by other yards. No real access unless you come in from the street directly into the backyard and then over. No alley ways to speak of.

I am very curious to see what the legal rulings will be for a situation like that. On the one hand, I agree that in such a scenario the camera does not look out onto any public area. On the other, the person with the camera could argue that the coverage of their neighbor is incidental to their efforts of monitoring their own property. What happens then? Does this police go into the person's house and check the FoV of the camera? Does a judge order the angle / positioning of the camera to be adjusted? It's a tough situation.

How about the camera neighbor speaks with the hot tube lady and they have a mature conversation. Maybe hot tube lady is shown how the camera in question is in fact a fake. Between the two parties I am sure a compromise can be reached. Too simple a solution?

That said the conversation/ discussion is a good one.

Yesterday, the Sun Sentinel had a real estate lawyer weigh-in on whether a neighbor could have a camera aimed at someone's house/yard. He didn't say anything about criminal liability, possibly because that's not his area of expertise, but this it what he had to say otherwise:

Your neighbor could face civil liability if he is intentionally intruding on your privacy in a way that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, going beyond all boundaries of decency ... So his cameras pointing generally toward your yard would not be actionable, but, for example, a telephoto lens pointing directly into your bedroom window might be.

Heres another solution a lady came up with.

If the hot tub owner has a fence around it such that one could expect privacy, and the camera is positioned such that it could mitigate the privacy expectation, that I would say the neighbor has a civil case.

An inspection of the camera would be necessary, and it would have to be done in such a way that the camera owner did not know ahead of time...other wise he could switch the camera.

Also check for wiring, why have wiring if its a dummy?

Also check for wiring, why have wiring if its a dummy

Any quality dummy camera of the bullet variety at least, will come with fully non-functional black cable, usually awg 18 or greater, which magically disappears right into into the wall, without a trace. They are capable of apparently penetrating even the normally trickiest of materials with equal ease, so there is nothing else to really look for.

Remember that dummy styles tend to lag cutting edge styles by a minimum of ten years; mainly because they are trying to fit in with a perp's fuzzy recall of camera bodies and mounts.

One sign of a dummy is when the mount is clearly capable of protecting and routing the cable, and yet it simply flails openly, just asking to be cut.

Of course this could also be a trap...