Although a person's home is their castle, videotaping what goes on inside can come at a hefty price. An Iowa man discovered this after he secretly taped his own wife in their house, and following their divorce, was slapped with a $22,500 award against him for invasion of her privacy. This comes on the heels of a story last week about a Nebraska man who sued his ex-wife and former father-in-law accusing them of spying on him by hiding an audio recording device inside his daughter's teddy bear. However, unlike that case, the story in Iowa raises hard questions about videotaping during a marital relationship.
As the Iowa Supreme Court put it delicately, the marriage of Jeffrey and Cathy Tigges already had "trust issues" when it began. Before the marriage, Jeffrey and Cathy had recorded each other's telephone conversations without the other's knowledge and consent. This case was also not about the wife being caught in unseemly situations, as these videotapes didn't contain anything of a "private" or "sexual" nature in the bedroom. The court even gave the husband the benefit of the doubt by assuming that the couple was not separated nor living in different houses at the time the tapings occurred. Yet, even with all these considerations, the court found that Jeffrey had indeed invaded his wife's privacy and was liable for damages.
Courts have been careful in how far they go in these marital privacy cases, indicating that their decisions would probably be different in cases where a husband spies on his wife with his own eyes. Videotaping takes the issue to another level, as one Texas court put it:
"the videotaping of a person without consent or awareness when there is an expectation of privacy goes beyond the rights of a spouse because it may record private matters, which could later be exposed to the public eye. The fact that no later exposure occurs does not negate that potential and permit willful intrusion by such technological means into one's personal life in one's bedroom."
The mistake people often make when conducting secret videotape surveillance is that they only consider their own rights, especially when it comes to taping on their own property. Although this is understandable, and strong arguments could be made in favor of such a position, courts and legislators have not looked at it that way. Instead, courts will look at it from the point-of-view of those being videotaped and ask whether those individuals had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time they were secretly videotaped.
Last, but not least, some states make it a criminal offense to install or use cameras in private places. Recently, a state court upheld a Wisconsin man's conviction for violating the state's law for recording another person in the nude, without their knowledge and consent, even though the other person was his girlfriend who knowingly exposed herself to him. States vary in their treatment of surreptitious videotaping, and an individual or business considering it should first give a good thought to the privacy expectations of those they are going to be taping, and better yet, consult a local attorney to ensure they take all necessary steps to protect themselves from liability.