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Hidden Surveillance Camera

Original post made by SpyingNeighbor, Old Palo Alto, on Feb 10, 2016

A lot of families install hidden surveillance cameras for security reasons. This helps the community and neighborhood. Most of the time, these cameras are placed from the outside, pointing toward the doors/windows/yards of the property. However I have been suspecting for about a year or two that one of the neighbors' hidden cameras seem to be pointing toward the outside of their front yard, picking up street traffic and portions of others' front yards as well.

California law seems to allow private cameras monitor other private properties where visible from public areas, while it is illegal to record others' voices without consent.

This gets quite annoying when you know there are always pairs of eyes watching the neighbors on the street. I wonder how people deal with this kind of situation.

Comments (36)

Posted by Seriously
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2016 at 10:53 pm

Isn't recording others voices without their consent something that could result in prison time? Why not copy the code and give your neighbor a copy while expressing concern for them. Didn't PAUSD or some other local school district have a family arrested for recording their 504 or IEP meeting (it's an exception to the law, parents always have a right)? It'snot something to be taken lightly.


Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 12:10 am

You talkin about this one? -- Web Link

I see three cars on the street, and portions of others' front yards.


Posted by Seriously
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2016 at 1:29 am

@musical,
Actually, I think the strict law involves voice recording. I honestly don't know the rules on something like that. (I think it would be the neighborly thing to let that situation drop, neither of those women deserved the negative attn.)


Posted by So
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2016 at 5:53 am

You are allowed to take pictures anywhere the person being photograph has no expectation of privacy.
I dont know about the audio rules, but clearly people have been able to video tape police activity with audio and not have legal repercussions. Not that police unions have not tried to go after them.


Posted by IsThereARightWay
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2016 at 8:44 am


@musical---thanks for pointing it out that other vehicles and portions of others' yards are also in the video recording that was posted.

From what everyone says, it seems to be legal. However is this the neighborly thing to do, i.e., pointing cameras from inside the house outward. Apparently it is the easiest way to put the cameras up.

I start to wonder whether I am being watched like the neighbor across the street, or one of the neighbors walking my dogs in my very own freaking neighborhood.

@So what about inadvertently hearing others' voice conversation without recording? For example, some surveillance cameras have voice functions too so that the sounds/conversations on the street could be picked up indoors by the monitoring system? Would it be legal as well?

I am trying to figure out what the neighborly thing is to do in this case, even though it might be perfectly legal to point my cameras right across the street?


Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2016 at 9:30 am

From time to time, the police post copies of private home surveillance videos of burglars approaching or running away from homes. The videos sometimes show the burglars' cars on the street. These cameras are obviously pointing away from the homes and the police don't seem to have any problems with them.

My understanding is photographing people on public property or outside of your property is almost always legal as long as you are not trespassing when you take the photo or video. Your own camera located at your own home is obviously not trespassing.

Regarding outdoor audio recording, I think you need a very sophisticated system to record voices that are more than a couple of feet away from the microphone, so neighbors really do not need to worry. Most of your audio recording is going to be car tires, dogs, and birds.


Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2016 at 9:32 am

P.S. Pointing your camera into your neighbor's window or door is probably not neighborly and may not be legal. If you cameras are aimed outdoors, aim them at your driveway or at the sidewalk/street outside your own home.


Posted by Photography is not a crime
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2016 at 9:51 am

Photography or video recording of public space is perfectly legal. If you are in public you do not have a "right to privacy" that allows you to dictate to someone else whether or not they can take your picture. As a street photographer I occasionally face this issue and it is surprising how often people think they have a "right" to impose their wishes on a photographer taking pictures in a public space.

This does not mean that I can stand on the sidewalk with a telephoto lens and take pictures of you while you are in your home or another private setting. It also does not meant that I have a right to stand outside the fence at a military installation and take pictures of the activity happening there.

These recordings are legal.


Posted by IsThereARightWay
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2016 at 10:03 am

It sounds like we will have to rely on our neighbors' good intentions to feel that we are not being watched or stalked. This is kinda annoying.

How would any of my neighbors know that I will be pointing my cameras toward my own driveway, instead of theirs? How would they know that I will not be watching them from my home screen(not that one would)? What if there are naughty teens or psychopaths who enjoy stalking neighbors out there?

@resident one would be impressed by how good the smartphone technologies are these days. If one downloaded a free monitoring app from the google store, one would be surprised that sounds from ten yards away would be picked up like right in front...at least I was.

Thus my question.


Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2016 at 10:40 am

If you are worried about your neighbor's cameras, then talk to your neighbor and work it out. Or install some thicker curtains for your windows. Don't rely on the law to protect your privacy. What little protections you have are not actively enforced by the police.


Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 10:40 am

Get caught photographing a minor and see how long you can stay out of jail.


Posted by So
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2016 at 10:10 am

Musical, People photograph minors all the time. I never saw anyone arrested at an AYSO game for taking pictures, have you? The rule is photographs in public spaces are perfectly legal.


Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 13, 2016 at 3:01 pm

I wouldn't recommend standing outside an elementary school at recess with a telephoto lens.


Posted by Mists of History
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2016 at 3:42 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 13, 2016 at 5:47 pm

Years ago, a neighbor of mine was sitting in his car outside of school (legally parked) watching his daughter at an after school sports practice. He was picking the girl up, arrived early, and decided to make some work phone calls from the quiet of the family car. Apparently, another parent called the cops to report a suspicious man watching school girls from a car. The police questioned him and told him they regularly get calls about suspicious people around school and these people usually turn out to be parents. They did not tell him that was he was doing was wrong or that he should stop.

Bottom line is that even if what you are doing is perfectly legal, that will not stop the police from questioning you (or a lynch mob from not questioning you).


Posted by Traffic Impacts
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 13, 2016 at 8:15 pm

I know some people are using home setups to measure traffic on local streets. This data is useful and shows the impacts of cut through traffic, which the city usually does not measure


Posted by Seriously
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2016 at 11:31 am

The photographer above needs to be a little more careful or someone will get sued taking the advice at face value. Anyone you photograph up close in a public place, if you want to use the image especially to make money, you need to get a "model release" at least if you want to be sure of not getting sued.

Laws in California may be weak in regards to video, but audio recording someone without their knowledge or permission has very, very strong laws. Talk to lawyers about this, you will get an earful. You have to get express consent by all parties being recorded. It is a crime not to, and there are financial penalties that multiply as well, and the consequences include prison time. Doing a little reading because of this thread, I found that even a conversation in a place like a restaurant would be under most situations considered private. You cannot audio record the people next to you without their express consent. If someone is recording their neighbors accidentally with their security system, they are breaking the law (ignorance of the law is no excuse). They need to delete what they have and shut off the sound recording, or they could face serious penalties. If they continue knowingly to keep, use, or make more illegal sound recordings, other criminal laws may apply. Tell your neighbor, give them a clear printout from a reliable source on the law, and let them know it's not worth jail time. If you help them understand that you are giving them information in their brst interests, you are more likely to get through.

An exception to that rule, I believe, is that parents akways have the right to record IEP meetings. Hence that case (dorry, can't remember details) in which parents were arrested when the district found out they were recording meetings, but parents may have sued back and won. It was somewhere local.


Posted by Seriously
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2016 at 11:34 am

Doh! Darned mobile device keypad! I hope what I weote above was clear.


Posted by Seriously
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2016 at 11:47 am

Oh, also, I reread your original post. If you are uncomfortable by the video intrusion and the neighbor won't change, you may wish to look closelat stalking laws and see how you can provide notice then force the neighbor to direct their camera off of your home.

But that's extreme. The best course is not to assume your neighbor is a stalker and first enlist their help.


Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 14, 2016 at 6:13 pm

So, while we are here, what's the verdict on whether one can ask a police officer to shut off audio/video recording during a contact? e.g. you witnessed an accident or a crime and would rather not speak on camera.


Posted by Photography is not a crime
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2016 at 6:34 pm

@Seriously: I understand my rights quite well as a photographer. Here is a good summary of those rights, which might help to clarify. Web Link You do not need to obtain "model releases" from people photographed in a public space, regardless of how close or far away from them you are. The exception would be if you are doing commercial photography, which is not what I do as a street photographer. In almost all location shoots of that type, commercial photographers are already using hired models, which makes it a moot point.


Posted by So
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2016 at 8:49 pm

Musical.

You can always ask. They are not required to comply. You have not rights to not be photographed in public.
If picture taken is used and intentionally misrepresents the subject to their detriment then the person publishing the photo can be sued.


Posted by Seriously
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2016 at 11:07 pm

@Photography,
I have no doubt you know your rights, and most of what you took umbrage about we actually agreed on if you read my post again. Your link begins by pointing out the rights, unless there are ordinances and state laws that apply, and there are those in California, too. If someone isn't as well versed as you and think they have a free right to photograph anyone in public and use the image however they want, even if not commercial, they could find themselves sued. An example of this is photographing teens at a high school event and using the photos for abortion clinic information brochure, even if no one made money, or photographing someone with an injury who faces consequences for it being public. Extreme examples, but to make a point, there are laws that apply, even your link pointed that out (but didn't deal with that, only with situations lacking any ordinances).

The best way to avoid a problem if you have any questions is to get a model release. (No, you don't have to ask people in a crowd, but I thought that was self evident.)

Here is a link that discusses some of the legal issues, which most people don't want to have to parse, because a lawsuit is bad for most people even if they win. Web Link

Regardless, the rules on voice recording in California are quite strict and anyone who doubts it should spend time with lawyers who know.


Posted by SpyingNeighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2016 at 8:24 am


It looks like there is no way to stop the nosy neighbors from spying on the rest of us, either through video surveillance cameras or microphones.

From the discussions above, I gather if someone records what their video cameras pick up and don't make it known, there is no way we could even start the conversation with them about it. Right?

Also, if someone overheard others' conversation through the microphones of the surveillance camera, but did not record them, it would still be considered legal, right? It sounds like only RECORDED conversation without consent is illegal.


Posted by Seriously
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2016 at 3:01 pm

@Spying Neighbor,
No, listening in on your neighbor even if you don't record would not be ok. It would just be covered under different statues. You would be engaged in illegal surveillance and could get into serious trouble in a half dozen other ways.

Again, if your concern is the neighbor violating your privacy, learn the relevant codes and try and help them understand that they risk civil and criminal penalties including jail time. If they still won't, you may even be within your rights to call the police, etc. it might be time to call a lawyer. If someone is making equipment that makes it difficult NOT To commit illegal surveillance, you may have a case against the mfr. i wish you lick. You shouldn't have to put up with that. Your neighbor is lucky you don't have it out for them, the laws are strong for a reason.


Posted by Seriously
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Here's a link you may wish to give your neighbor:

Web Link

"Under California Penal Code Section 632, it is a crime to use any type of amplification or recording device to listen in on someone’s conversation without their consent. 1"

So just listening in using the device is also a crime, even if they don't record it. Eavesdropping carries civil and criminal penalties and could be a felony, depending, with potentially up to three years in prison.

If they eavesdrop AND make illegal recordings, each incident could be considered a separate offense, meaning your neighbor would be in a whole heap of hurt if someone decides to put a stop to them. It's better karma for you to give them due warning and an opportunity to stop. What do you think is their purpose? Are they trying to harass you? That is a whole other area of law that applies.


Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 15, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Our outdoor cameras are pretty conspicuous and record hidef video and audio. I asked PAPD about the legality of recording audio, and they said it was fine . But, you might want to post a question to PAPD on Nextdoor and see what they say. Basically, surveillance cameras capture any sound (mostly cars, trucks and birds) and aren't considered eavesdropping on conversations, just recording ambient sounds.


Posted by So
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2016 at 4:53 pm

@Seriously,

Yes, I agree there are restrictions with what you can do with the photograph once taken.
That said I don't get model releases as I don't use them commercially as your example.
You example of an advertisement for an abortion clinic would be commercial use.


Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2016 at 6:03 pm

oh and any issues that come up, if they do are for civil court. As for the audio, I have yet to here of any issues resulting from video taping their kids school play because they did not get model releases.


Posted by Seriously
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2016 at 9:16 am

@so,
Recording audio is a different issue than photography. You are wrong about recording the school play, though. All parents are asked to sign releases during registration! This is also the case for city and outside activities, all present media releases with registration. If not all parents agree, the school can get snippy about photos and video. We've been disallowed to video school plays in PAUSD for copyright and individual permission reasons, too. We've also been allowed, either because everyone signed or no one wanted to enforce it for a school play (the releases are very broad, so parents may be okay with much of it but not willing to sign away any rights for school publicity, for example).

Audio recording someone without their consent for a school play is unlikely to result in prosecution, but illegally eavesdropping on a neighbor in their home is a whole different ball of wax. Talk to a lawyer if you want to hear the harsh downsides.


Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2016 at 9:55 am

Let me go back to the original post by @SpyingNeighbor. They were concerned that a neighbor's camera was pointing beyond their property line and recording street traffic.

I don't think there is anything illegal about this. I don't think there is anything you can do about this.

If they have a camera covering the front of their house and the camera has a wide enough view to include the sidewalk and street in front of the their home then I would say that is OK. No one is going to stop them.

If they had a camera pointed directly into your living room window and that was all they were recording then I think you would have a case to have them stop.

I would think that cameras on their property pointing up and down the street to collect traffic (and plate numbers) would also be acceptable. Think about all the stories on the local news where someone has recorded a package thief on the front step but there is no recording of how they got to the house.

I think it comes down to intent. If their intent is to spy on you then that is illegal. If the intent is to protect their property and the majority of the recording (video and audio) is of their property then that would be considered legal. The "overlap" of recording some of your property and public space would be acceptable.

Think about all the stores and bars that have cameras outside their building looking up and down the street.

There is no privacy, get used to it.


Posted by So
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2016 at 7:57 pm

@seriously

I know the laws surrounding still photography, I am not concerned with being arrested. ;-)


Posted by Seriously
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2016 at 8:45 am

@so
I am not concerned about you, I have pointed out as much. Please refer to the original post and maybe calm down from whatever bee you have in your bonnet and calmly read my posts. In my general comment, I am clearly addressing the original poster mainly, with concerns about their situation and the neighbor who may not know the laws around illegal eavesdropping and voice recording.

@everyone except so) Even if someone has good intent in making a recording without consent of all parties, the consequences can be severe in a dispute.

@Marc,
The video stories on the news are video, for which the laws are different, and almost all just people's front step.

If someone is accidentally picking up their neighbors' private conversations, as the OP is concerned about his/her neighbor doing, and the neighbor knows and doesn't try to fix it, they may be committing a crime, should the OP decide to pursue it. Since the OPs goal is to get the neighbor to respect privacy rather than get them arrested and put in jail, the best thing for the OP to do is copy the laws, maybe even speak with an attorney, and give the neighbor the information. Then the neighbor can fix it, or at least not be surprised if the OP decides to pursue it.

@Marc, you are confusing eavesdropping and illegal voice recording with public spaces where there is no expectation of privacy. If the shop or neighbors camera were just picking up their property and some street activity, no issues. If it's basically illegal surveillance of the neighbor across the street in their home, it's a crime. That's the law. The crime can be felony level, depending, but the neighbor needs to know that precedent is not on their side. It doesn't matter if it was unintentional, the minute they realized, they should have redirected their equipment and erased the recording. The OP is clearly concerned that the equipment is directed at him/her for the purpose of eavesdropping (per the kegal definition), which is a crime that could carry jail time.


Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2016 at 9:25 am

This is an interesting conversation and one in which any of us could easily get drawn unknowingly.

I have watched the morning news and there is an item about a fight between two students in a high school which is causing a big storm. The fight had been recorded presumably on a cell phone and then posted to social media. The fight is obviously newsworthy in itself, but the fact is that it has been posted to Facebook and Facebook refuse to take down the video.

The legal repercussions of this could be enormous.

On another thread on Town Square about skateboarders misbehaving in a public parking lot, someone is suggesting that such behavior should be recorded by cell phone.

There are many incidents of cell phone videos being taken of police activity. The police sometimes seem to confiscate the phones as evidence. There are times that these videos are kept by police and often the phones are never returned or the videos deleted before phones being returned.

So the question follows as to whether deliberate recording of an incident taking place in public is ethical, legal, and whether it is the property of the individual taking the video or the police as evidence? It also follows as should such evidence be forwarded to another individual before handing over to the police so that a record can be kept by the owner of the phone who did the recording.

The law is not keeping up with technology. A decade ago having security cameras in homes was rare. Now it is a common occurrence. A decade ago it was unlikely that a fight in a school would be recorded. Now it is possible for such a fight to be recorded by all the people present. Where the law stands on such things is something that should be cleared up.

As to recording video of any public event, a kids' soccer game, a graduation ceremony, a marathon, any potential news event could happen at any one of these. At the Boston marathon bombings, for example, police asked attendees who took pictures and videos so that they could screen them for possible clues and in fact the bombing suspects were discovered through this evidence. Obviously the majority of AYSO soccer games being recorded are for the families' own use, but if a major crime was taking place in the background or if a fight did break out between say parents or a coach and a player, this could potentially be used as evidence, let alone if say a shooting occurred in the background, this evidence could be crucial.

We are all potentially able to video a newsworthy event or a major crime either by chance or by being in the right place at the right time to take out our phones and start recording. The law needs to be cleared up as to what is what in these situations. I don't believe it has, although I am willing to be proven wrong.


Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2016 at 9:43 am

@Seriously You said "... If the shop or neighbors camera were just picking up their property and some street activity, no issues. If it's basically illegal surveillance of the neighbor across the street in their home, it's a crime. That's the law. ..."

I agree with you and that is what I thought I had said. The question will be "and some street activity".

But if the OP is concerned that as they walk by their neighbor's house they will be recorded then don't walk by the house. Many of the videos you see on the news are aimed down a driveway and pickup the street, the home across the street, a portion of the neighbors front yard. I don't think anyone will get in trouble as long as the intent was to record their own property.

/marc


Posted by Gotcha Fido
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 17, 2016 at 9:40 pm

Given the amount of dog poop left in my yard, I'd love to capture video of the responsible party. Thanks for the idea!


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