New York Video Surveillance Laws
The Broad Strokes of New York’s Surveillance Laws
Generally speaking, surveillance cameras are perfectly legal in the state of New York. Where it becomes a little bit more complicated is privacy.
The New York State Penal Code is the primary law that governs how and where you can use surveillance cameras. That should be your first stop if you have questions. Some municipalities may have location-specific regulations that you must also follow, so check your local laws.
Additionally, there are restrictions on what you can do with footage. Using it to investigate a crime? That’s okay. Posting it to a voyeurism website? Not okay. Generally, you can’t use recordings for personal gain.
New York Surveillance Laws for Residential Properties
There are currently no specific criminal laws when installing security cameras on the outside of a residential property.
You may want to be careful and avoid pointing it at a window or outdoor space of a neighbor, though. That would violate privacy laws. The Backyard Surveillance Law—civil, not criminal—protects you against others recording your outdoor recreational activity in a private or semi-private area.
You are obviously allowed to use surveillance cameras inside your residence, but that does not mean there are no other considerations. Here too, you must respect privacy.
To avoid privacy-related hassles, you should not install cameras in these areas, even within your own home:
- Guest bedrooms
- Changing rooms
- Live-in houseworker living quarters
- Any other location with a “reasonable expectation of privacy”
As a quick and general rule, privacy trumps security. A “reasonable expectation of privacy” violation would extend to a landlord installing a camera in a tenant’s living room, for example.
Video monitoring in these areas is a violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 250.45, unlawful surveillance in the second degree. This is a Class E felony and carries a sentence of 2-5 years and/or probation.
New York Surveillance Laws for Businesses
Businesses can install security cameras in their workplace. But once again, people have a right to privacy, and business owners must respect this right by law.
It’s permissible under Section 203-C of the New York Labor Law for employers to record and monitor employees, except in locker rooms, bathrooms, or other areas where they change.
Additionally, a recent amendment to New York State’s Civil Rights Law requires private employers to notify employees—with signs and/or sections in the employee handbook—of any video surveillance equipment. They must also obtain written acknowledgment of that notification. Failure to do so can result in a $500 fine for the first infraction, $1,000 for a second, and $3,000 for a third and any additional violations.
The Tricky Issue of Audio
Most states have fewer rules and regulations for video recordings than they do for audio recordings. New York is no different.
New York is one of 37—plus the District of Columbia—“one-party” consent states. It requires the permission of at least one person being recorded. If you are a part of the conversation, you can safely record the audio. If you are recording a conversation that does not include you, you must obtain verbal or written consent from at least one participant.
Failure to do so is a violation of section 250.05 of New York Penal Law. This section deals with the offense of eavesdropping through wiretapping, mechanical overhearing, or interception of electronic communication. It is a Class E felony, and it carries a sentence of 1-5 years.
The remaining 13 states—including Pennsylvania, Florida, and California—are “two-party” consent locations. They require permission from everyone in the conversation.
Video Surveillance by the Police
Law enforcement agencies are using increasingly sophisticated surveillance devices and technology.
In light of that, the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act was passed in New York City in 2020. It requires the NYPD to disclose the types of surveillance being used in and around NYC, procedures in place to protect against abuse, and oversight mechanisms to protect citizens’ privacy. The Act also requires the NYPD to release an impact and use policy at least 90 days before introducing any new type of surveillance.
With over 18,000 police CCTV systems and countless other cameras in NYC, your odds of appearing on video are very high.
Do You Need a License for Surveillance in New York?
If you are installing surveillance cameras as part of a security system, you need a license issued by the New York State Department of State (NYSDOS).
If they are not part of a maintained security system, you may not need the license. Confirm with the NYSDOS beforehand.
Surveillance cameras are a common sight in New York. They can be a valuable tool for deterring crime and protecting people’s safety. However, it’s important to be aware of the privacy laws that govern the use of surveillance cameras in each state.
The rules in Florida may be different from those in California, which in turn are different from New York surveillance laws. It is your responsibility to stay aware of the regulations in your location.
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