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Nanny Cams: The Legality of Covert Surveillance

Parents, especially new ones, often have concerns about leaving their child with a hired caregiver. To ease their parental anxiety and ensure the child’s safety, many use nanny cams to discreetly monitor the provider’s behavior and actions towards their child.


But these covert cameras have a far broader application than just monitoring child-provider interactions; they are ideal to use for any type of in-home or small business surveillance. For instance, a nanny cam can help homeowners monitor valuables when service providers are left unattended. Or enable small business owners to keep a close and constant watch on employee conduct in the office.

Are Nanny Cams Legal?
Given that they record covertly, the use of nanny cams naturally begs the question: are they legal? The short answer is yes, it is legal to use a covert camera in all fifty states. However, there are a few caveats to consider when using a nanny cam. First, the use of covert cameras is permissible only in areas where they would not pose an invasion of privacy. In fact, some states have laws that expressly prohibit the use of nanny cams in certain areas of a home or place of business where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Such areas include (but aren’t limited to) bathrooms, dressing rooms, exam rooms, hotel rooms and bedrooms (other than your own).

The Legality of Audio Taping
While videotaping may be legal, audio taping is a far more intense issue that many states are split on. Most states allow one-party consent of audio taping. However, it is illegal to record audio without an individual’s consent in the following 15 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington. Additionally, in a few states (including California) audio taping with the consent of just one party is legal if felony criminal activity (e.g. extortion, kidnapping, etc.) is involved.

Since videos with sound violate wiretapping laws in some states, many nanny cams are not equipped with the ability to record sound. Before you decide to audio tape a nanny or caregiver, talk with an attorney knowledgeable in your state’s audio recording laws to make certain you don’t inadvertently violate any laws.

A Matter of Ethics 
There’s no question that the use of nanny cams can pose ethical questions. Research indicates that most nannies and caregivers are not opposed to the videotaping of child-provider interaction; the issue seems to be the feelings of deception and mistrust that the use of covert surveillance can cultivate. Additionally, many parenting experts recommend telling caregivers upfront if you plan on videotaping them. This way, bad behaviors are prevented rather than simply caught.