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Living on Video: When Can You Record Guests in Your Home?

The delicate balance of privacy and proactivity.

Not-So-Private Eyes in Public

In public, we see video cameras everywhere. Even when we don´t, we expect they are still there. Perched on buildings watching you walk down a busy street, or on satellites orbiting the earth watching you walk along a deserted beach.

Your assumptions change, however, when you enter someone's home. Most people do not expect cameras there. If you are the homeowner, what are the legal, ethical, and social expectations governing whether and where you can or should have them?

Perhaps the first question is, why would you want to? Everyone understands the rationale behind nanny-cams, Ring doorbells, and other home monitoring systems designed to keep an eye on unexpected guests and strangers visiting your home to perform a service.

But what about invitees? Whether you are having a party or allowing a friend to crash in a spare bedroom, if you have home surveillance, do you tell your guests? Should you?

Should You Tell Houseguests They Are Living on Video?

Home monitoring is often used to keep an eye on individuals hired to come inside and perform a service. From caretaking to cooking and cleaning, homeowners want to ensure the people they trust inside their homes are trustworthy. But how far can they go with clandestine surveillance?

First things first: Research the law. Check to see if in your state, you can install and operate cameras in your home without the express consent of others you invite inside. Now check to see what the law says regarding whether those cameras can record audio—which would mean you could hear at least one side of a phone conversation—which might include someone reading off their credit card number or describing a prescription drug they are taking.

One of the main issues to consider when recording inside your home is whether the individuals under observation have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area under surveillance. Whether someone is inside your house to walk your dog, fix your dishwasher, or babysit your child, cameras are more acceptable in areas in which such employees are expected to work. But we can all agree such invitees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in certain areas—such as the bathroom. But what about the bedroom? After all—they would have no reason to be in there, would they?

Hopefully not. But speaking of who would be in the bedroom, what are the rules regarding monitoring family members?

When Cameras Are a Family Affair

Many children with aging loved ones whose physical and/ or mental abilities are in decline broach the subject of home monitoring as a way for older individuals to remain safe and healthy while maintaining their independence and quality of life.

It is not necessarily true that all elderly people shun the idea of being on video. Some research indicates that videophone interaction between nursing staff and family members with elderly subjects experiencing cognitive impairment can increase their focus and attention.[i]

What about recording intimate partners? Research indicates in this situation, more ominous factors might be at play.

Heather Douglas et al., in a piece entitled, "Technology-facilitated Domestic and Family Violence” (2019) discuss how technology can facilitate domestic and family violence.[ii] They found that perpetrators use technology to facilitate emotional abuse, as well as to engage in stalking behaviors and create a sense of abuser omnipresence. Douglas et al. also discuss using technology to manipulate, intimidate, and control victims, sometimes through invasive techniques, which include the use of video cameras at home.

One woman in their study reported that her partner justified the installation of CCTV cameras throughout their house rationalizing it would help her to view their child in every room. She described the unnerving experience of having her partner move the cameras around all day, following her movement in the house including pointing the camera at her when she was emerging naked from the shower or was breastfeeding.

Another woman reported finding out her ex-partner had recorded the two of them having sex on a video camera without her knowledge, which she believed was done with the intention of using the footage to threaten her in the future. This type of secret recording between intimates is invasive, intrusive, and depending on the circumstances, could lead to legal liability.

Privacy Is Paramount

When it comes to the line between surveillance and spying, for the individual caught on camera, this is a distinction with a difference. A caregiver or nanny might expect there might be a camera running; a houseguest renting a room would not. For those invited in to perform a service, requesting and obtaining consent may be easier than you think. For everyone else, a reasonable expectation of privacy is paramount.


[i]Sävenstedt, Stefan, Karin Zingmark, and P O Sandman. “Video-Phone Communication with Cognitively Impaired Elderly Patients.” Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare 9, no. 2_suppl (December 2003): 52–54.

[ii]Douglas, Heather, Bridget A Harris, and Molly Dragiewicz. "Technology-facilitated Domestic and Family Violence: Women’s Experiences." The British Journal of Criminology 59, no. 3 (2019): 551-70.

More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
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