How to block a neighbor’s security camera – if you dare
By Mary Van Doren
Posted in: Legal
Knowing how to block that neighbor’s security camera legally is the tricky part
If good fences make good neighbors, what happens when someone spies at you over that fence?
That’s a question that thousands of homeowners are asking these days, as high-tech home security systems become ever more affordable and ubiquitous. And certainly there’s nothing wrong with mounting security cameras around your home to protect yourself and your family.
But problems are increasingly arising when neighbors notice that someone’s camera is pointing … straight at them. And that’s when questions about how to block a neighbor’s security camera come down like an avalanche on police and lawyers everywhere.
It’s easy to see how such a thing happens accidentally. If you want to get a good view of, say, your backyard, your camera’s field of vision can easily capture part of your neighbor’s backyard at the same time.
Most people like to think of their homes as private on the outside, just as they are on the inside. So it’s certainly disconcerting to ponder a neighbor having video of you gardening, sunbathing … or whatever else you like to do in your yard.
The problem is that it’s all perfectly legal in most states: Any area that can be viewed from somewhere else, such as your backyard as viewed from someone else’s house nearby, is considered fair game.
After all, Google Earth has photos of your backyard and the front of your house posted on the Internet right now. Private? Absolutely not.
A legal gray area
Like drones, home security cameras have sprung up all over the country – but while drone laws have begun to catch up, laws to regulate personal CCTV cameras haven’t entirely kept pace.
While pinning this down is difficult, it appears that only Illinois and Oklahoma have enacted laws giving homeowners some privacy from a neighbor’s security cameras. And without a local law protecting you, the principal of “reasonable expectation of privacy” comes into play everywhere else.
Here's looking at you, kid.
What that means is it’s perfectly legal to film any part of a home that’s visible from somewhere else, including doors and yards. The only part of a home that’s off limits is the inside.
Ely, a legal Expert on JustAnswer, explains it this way:
“Intruding upon another's solitude or private affairs, physically or otherwise, is subject to liability under invasion of privacy if this intrusion would be considered highly offensive to a reasonable person.
“This includes having a camera pointed to a spot that would otherwise be considered private by an individual. (This is how paparazzi get into trouble - they can take photos of celebrities out and about, but not at private events or hidden places, for example.) A suit can seek injunction, damages, and legal fees.”
Yet when a resident of Colorado Springs, CO asked online if it’s legal for a neighbor to have a camera pointed at her back door, noting, “It feels like an invasion of privacy!,” an attorney noted,
“You are right to ‘feel’ that this is an invasion of privacy. Unfortunately, it is not and doing this, under your limited facts, is entirely legal. You don't have an expectation to privacy on the back door.”
And ITPeter, an Expert on JustAnswer, who worked with a customer who was dealing with a security camera mounted above a fence into his yard, was working with his own understanding of laws.
“As someone who installs CCTV,” he told a customer, “I know that it's illegal for a person to install a CCTV camera that overlooks another persons property without their permission. They must also have signs saying that CCTV is in operation,” he said.
“However, it is also illegal to disrupt the operation of CCTV, so you are in a Catch-22 situation until the problem can be resolved legally. Tell the police to do their job, and speak to these people.”
Catch-22, indeed. If you’re stuck in a similar situation, there are two key points to consider before taking action.
One, is the camera fully on someone else’s property? They have a right to own personal property inside their property lines.
Two, is the camera filming only the inside of your home? If it’s pointed at your windows, but also captures activity on the neighbor’s own property, it’s still legal according to most experts.
Failing the above, it will be tricky to get authorities to take your side. And you definitely want the authorities on your side in a dispute of this kind.
How to block a neighbor’s security camera – legally
So your neighbor mounted a security camera that takes in a healthy view of your backyard. The very first step you need to take is to speak with the neighbor politely, or send him a letter, to find out if he really didn’t intent to spy on you, but only mounted the camera with the intention of protecting a part of his property.
Are your neighbors sneaking a peak into your private life with security camera video?
The field of view of home security cameras can be quite wide, making it difficult to avoid filming area outside the ones you intend to monitor. At the same time, it might look as if the camera is pointing your way, but cameras also have blind spots, and you might find your property really isn’t being filmed.
And perhaps you’ll be able to work with the neighbor to figure out a better camera placement. Or you might even discover that the camera isn’t operational, but just a decoy to discourage burglars.
If the neighbor isn’t cooperative and a real camera is rolling 24/7, you can try to call the police, but getting their cooperation will depend on their interpretation of privacy laws unless you’re in Illinois or Oklahoma. A stern letter from a lawyer might work as a next step, since most people don’t really want to wind up in court.
But if that fails, as JustAnswer Expert Ely advised his customer, “Someone in your situation can file a civil suit for invasion of privacy.” This is where you’ll actually have to prove that the filming is both intrusive and intentional.
If you still haven’t prevailed, even in court, your only option is to know how to block a neighbor’s security camera without actually damaging or interfering with it.
This is a fine line you have to walk. Although many electronics and camera experts will tell you that shining an infrared light, even a laser pointer, at the camera will interfere with its operation, they’ll also tell you that that’s illegal.
And the obvious solutions of taking down the camera yourself, or covering the lens in some way, is equally illegal. Even the police can’t interfere with a security camera when they’re executing a search warrant, unless the warrant specifically allows them too.
That pretty much leaves two options: One, shield your property from view by building a taller fence, planting adult trees, or setting up tarps on your property. Two, point your own cameras at the neighbor in hopes of encouraging him to take his down.
All in all, given the vagaries of security camera laws, you might want to consult an attorney if you ever find yourself facing down the lens of a neighbor’s security camera. Fortunately, the legal Experts on JustAnswer are available even in the middle of the night, without an appointment and or an hourly fee.
And these days, they’re becoming adept at answering questions about neighbors’ security cameras, so don’t hesitate to ask.
Have you ever had to deal with a nosy neighbor’s security camera, and if so, what did you do? Please share your experiences with us in the comments below.