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Do You Have Privacy Rights in an Elevator?

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on May 14, 2014 11:29 AM

Lots of private moments happen in elevators, but are they legally "private" at all?

Jay-Z and Solange Knowles may be interested in this question after TMZ posted security footage apparently depicting the two in an elevator brawl, reports People. The footage set Twitter on fire.

So what privacy rights, if any, do you have in an elevator?

Cameras in Elevators

Unless you have accessibility issues, you aren't likely to have an elevator in your home. But you are likely to encounter them in hotels, stadiums, theaters, and other private businesses.

Private business owners are generally allowed to install surveillance cameras, even hidden ones, in areas where they promote a legitimate business purpose. Cameras at entrances and check-out counters to spot possible theft are OK. But hidden cameras in bathroom areas -- probably not.

In order to avoid violating privacy laws, cameras in elevators must serve a legitimate business purpose and avoid intruding into a person's reasonable expectation of privacy. For this reason, elevator security cameras are installed at a high vantage point and only record video. Recording audio without permission would violate federal wiretapping laws.

This is probably why we'll never find out exactly #WhatJayZSaidToSolange.

Eavesdropping in an Elevator

In the most traditional sense, you have no privacy rights to prevent someone from overhearing you or eavesdropping on your conversation in an elevator -- as long as that person is in the elevator with you, that is.

Just like with hidden cameras, it may be illegal under wiretapping laws to secretly record audio of someone in an elevator without his or her knowledge. A third party who is standing beside you in an elevator can reasonably be expected to overhear you, but there may be legal trouble if that person surreptitiously presses "record" on a smartphone.

Your privacy rights are bounded by what is reasonably considered "public" or "private" information or conduct. A low whisper to the person next to you in an elevator is more private than a flying kick to your brother-in-law.

However, even if a person is within his or her rights to view or overhear your elevator business, publishing it online -- or selling footage of it to TMZ -- is another story. An especially embarrassing photo or video snapped of you in an elevator may be grounds for a false light lawsuit.


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