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Privacy Issues with Home Surveillance Systems

Image taken from below the balcony of a large house

It is estimated that home surveillance is a $4.4 billion industry in Australia The affordability of CCTV equipment has led to a huge increase in the number of people installing video cameras to protect their homes and properties.  Having home and contents insurance is one thing, but having a visible deterrent like surveillance equipment could make a difference.

Surveillance equipment

For under $2,000, you can purchase a security system comprising four fixed cameras with night vision, motion detectors and a TV monitor and for around $3,000, you can upgrade to a camera that pans, tilts and has 26 X zoom.

Surveillance can be internal, with a camera in every room or external, with cameras monitoring both the front and rear of your property. It’s entirely up to you and you can even install them yourself.

Privacy issues

The problem arises when you cross the line between monitoring your own property and somebody else’s. If your camera is angled in such a way that it includes coverage of your neighbour’s yard or driveway, then complaints about invasion of privacy could be forthcoming.

There have been a number of recent instances involving irate residents, demanding action from authorities because of what they consider intrusive CCTV surveillance by their neighbours.

And one would have to think that they have some justification for being upset, given that we all expect to be monitored in public places and even welcome it from a public safety perspective, but draw the line at being watched on our own private property. 

The law

The complaints made in those situations have largely been ignored because there is currently nothing illegal about home surveillance in Australia.

Some exceptions to this include when:

  • The surveillance is of a criminal or voyeuristic nature
  • The area being monitored is one where someone would reasonably expect to have privacy, such as a bedroom or bathroom
  • The surveillance is of such intensity that it is creating a nuisance, preventing someone from the enjoyment of their property
  • The installation of the cameras is the result of a neighbourhood dispute involving threatening behaviour, in which case an apprehended violence order may call for the cameras to be removed.

The main reason there is no law or council by-law governing home surveillance is because it is a relatively new phenomenon and the lawmakers are still catching up. It may require testing in court and precedents to be established before any concrete legislation will emerge.

The solution

So if you’re planning to join the thousands of other property owners who have installed surveillance equipment in their homes, it would be wise to use some basic common sense to avoid alienating your neighbours and possibly being taken to court.

When you install CCTV cameras, make sure that:

  • They are only monitoring your property
  • If they are overlooking the street, there is a sign informing people they are being monitored
  • They are not monitoring areas where people could reasonably expect privacy
    If they are monitoring a strata titled home or apartment, you have permission from the body corporate to do so.