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Surveillance cameras can be a strong deterrent against crime. They can also be a great help to law enforcement. Doorbell cameras can help to identify the porch pirates that are lifting your Amazon deliveries, as well as a would-be robber or assailant.

But for every bit of increased security cameras provide, we trade off a little bit of privacy. There are rules that outline when surveillance cameras are allowed and when they are not. Read on to learn more.

Surveillance Cameras Outside

Surveillance cameras outside are usually fair game. They are very common in urban areas. You will usually see them posted on the corner of many buildings.

The cameras create a visual record of any incident–be it criminal or accidental. This kind of proof can be invaluable if you are worried about liability.

Private Areas Are Protected Areas

When a camera is in a public place, it cannot be pointed to a private area. For instance, if it’s aimed at a bedroom window, that could be a violation of privacy.

If the camera has enhanced capabilities that allow it to see through obstructions or in the dark, this is especially true. Using a handheld or portable camera outside to do things like peer through windows is also not permitted. Surveillance cameras generally cannot be used where there is an expectation of privacy.

Public Places Are Generally Fair Game

Under normal circumstances, there is little concern about violating someone’s privacy in an outside public area.

Surveillance Cameras Inside

The rules for using surveillance cameras inside are a little more complicated. Store security cameras used to prevent shoplifting are generally okay.

Again, cameras are not permitted in areas where a person expects privacy.


Privacy has been an issue of concern for stores that have considered putting cameras in bathrooms and dressing rooms. Surprisingly, cases have split over privacy in dressing rooms, while bathrooms have almost universally been deemed off-limits.

Dressing Rooms

Because dressing rooms do not necessarily require full nudity, they are sometimes used to prevent theft. Therefore, one could be on camera while clothes shopping. Fortunately, most national chains have refrained from placing cameras in dressing rooms out of concern for alienating their customers rather than issues over privacy laws.

Hotel and Locker Rooms

Similarly, other areas like rented rooms, hotel rooms, and locker rooms are generally off-limits for security cameras. These places have the expectation of complete privacy.

Surprising New Surveillance

With technology ever-evolving, new locations for surveillance are popping up almost every day. Aerial drones are a new technology causing considerable debate.

While laws have not yet fully caught up to this development, it does raise the question of whether one’s house and yard can be free of surveillance, either by individuals or the government, from aerial drones.

Know the Law

Surveillance cams might help to increase security, but they could also create problems if you are not following the law.

The placement of video recording devices within the common areas of residential and commercial buildings is acceptable. Beyond that, you may want to check with your attorney.

Video and Audio Recordings

Devices designed to record video and audio, are prohibited by federal law. Therefore cameras with hidden microphones are illegal. Wiretap laws vary from state to state. Bottom line: various rules may apply and you must analyze each to determine how to proceed.

In Missouri

  • Video surveillance is illegal in any place where a person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
  • Recording any kind of oral communication through an electronic device by a third party without consent is wiretapping and is strictly prohibited.
  • Exceptions to the law include an undercover investigation into a crime by law enforcement.

What this means is that unless you are involved in a criminal investigation, you cannot conduct your own surveillance activities unless this occurs in a public place.

If you have questions about surveillance, again, we encourage you to contact your attorney.