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You might have seen a teddy bear with especially penetrating eyes and wondered to yourself: Are nanny cams legal? The basic answer: It depends.
It's currently legal in every state to make a video-only recording of anything happening inside your home, at any time, without letting anyone know. It doesn't matter if the camera is hidden.
But there are a few legal restrictions on nanny cameras you may not know about.
Purpose of Recordings
While video-only nanny cam recordings are legal, they still must be used for a reasonable purpose. This is because all individuals, including nannies, have a legally protected expectation of privacy. Legitimate reasons can include monitoring your baby and/or your babysitter to thwart child abuse, or to prevent theft.
On the other hand, a nanny cam used for creepy voyeurism, dishing private information to the public, or any kind of commercial purpose generally is not legal.
Nanny cam recordings with audio, however, are in a whole different playing field. Have you ever noticed how security cameras at stores you visit often don't have audio? When they do, they often have a smiley face to give you notice in an obnoxious, sarcastic way: "Smile! You're being recorded!"
Under wiretapping laws, it's illegal to record oral communication in a surreptitious manner, such as with a hidden camera or other secret recording device. In about 15 states, it's illegal to record audio without the consent of the party being recorded (i.e., the nanny).
For this reason, most nanny cams don't include audio. If you do manage to find a nanny cam with the ability to record audio, make sure your state allows it. Asking the nanny cam merchant is a good place to start your research.
Evidence From Nanny Cams
If a nanny or babysitter is videotaped without his or her knowledge, admitting the secret recordings as evidence raises potential legal concerns. Courts are split on this issue, but most states seem to be leaning toward admitting secret nanny cam recordings.
But if you live in a state that requires consent, and your nanny-cam video has audio, then it'll likely be inadmissible under wiretapping laws. The "mute" button is a solution to that problem, unless the incriminating part of the video is speech.
So before you set up your home surveillance system, figure out your state's laws on nanny cameras or speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area.