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It’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it? Knowing that someone is next door, looking at you, studying your every move… I’ve felt it before, and it isn’t pleasant. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Sometimes, this feeling of being watched is amplified into something known as scopophobia, which thousands of people worldwide suffer from. But it’s ten times worse if it’s your next-door neighbor that does the watching. The obvious question is, “is it legal for neighbors to spy on you?” but the answer is not so straightforward.
The Know-How of Security Systems
If you live in the USA, chances are you’re not thrilled with the crime rate. Break-ins, stalking, package thieves, harassers — all of these problems persist in modern society. If you remember, there was even an outbreak of costumed clowns harassing people at their front doors during the night a few years back.
However, with a functional surveillance system, you can protect your property. More importantly, you’ll be able to identify the culprit from the footage. Right now, most cutting-edge wireless battery security camera comes with a high-definition option that clearly captures the face of the person who invaded your privacy. What’s more, these cameras can endure harsh weather, and some even have a voice recording option.
With all of that in mind, it’s pretty reasonable for your neighbors to have a security system. In fact, more often than not, a burglar can turn out to be living in your neighborhood. But there’s still the question of privacy.
Now, obviously, “spying” is a bit of a loaded term, so let’s simplify it. Does your neighbor have the right to point their security camera at your house?
The Legality of the Next-Door Camera
I’ll assume that a good number of you thought the answer was going to be “no, my house is my property, and the neighbor can’t record it.” Unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite. If your neighbor buys a security system and installs the camera outside, onto his house, they are fully within their rights to do so. After all, both the camera and the house are their property. Therefore, they can do whatever they feel like it. To paraphrase an old teacher of mine — the neighbor can even eat the camera for all I care, they paid for it.
But of course, it’s not just limited to “they own the camera; they can point it at you.” For a security camera to be effective, it has to capture a wide section before its lense. For example, if it’s in the front of the house, it has to capture the front porch, the driveway, the sidewalk, the mailbox, the whole front yard, and even the road itself. Your own front porch, driveway, doors, windows, and walls are a necessary “collateral damage” there.
But what’s unfortunate is that your neighbor doesn’t even need your consent to point a camera at your house. For instance, if you live near a large public area, then a security camera is entirely legal. In addition, if your area is a suburban street with private residences, the owner only has to ask for consent in certain cases. Once again, if the camera captures a wide, large area for security purposes, your neighbor didn’t break any laws.
Does All of This Apply to Me Too?
It absolutely does. You can do anything that your neighbor can with a security camera. As long as the camera captures an area where you can spot a criminal and as long as you follow the law, you’re good to go.
So Everything About Neighbors Looking at Me Is Legal?
As I stated in the opening, there are no straightforward answers. In fact, there are illegal ways to use a security camera. For example, your neighbor can point it at your house, but it has to be at a spot that doesn’t ruin your own privacy. So if you have a huge living room window, the neighbor’s camera can’t point directly at it. What’s more, the neighbor mustn’t zoom in on your activities while you’re in the house. That’s considered stalking, and it’s highly illegal.
Some neighbors tend to point their cameras at bathrooms, bedrooms, and, worst of all, children’s rooms. A few even go the extra mile and record everything that happens there and post it online! It’s truly disturbing to find videos of your family posted on Facebook or some shady website (or even on the Dark Web). That’s a direct invasion of privacy, and you have every right to pursue legal action.
Assessing the Situation: Spying or Not Spying?
There are several ways you can tell that your neighbor is spying on you. Let’s list a few:
- Your neighbor mentions things about your day that they can’t possibly know about
- They seem to know your daily schedule a little too well
- You find hints of someone messing with your mail or your front porch
- You spot them giving you a dirty look
- Other minor signs (like stalking on social media or gossiping about you with other neighbors)
Of course, always keep in mind that you could be wrong. Misunderstandings happen, and the neighbor might just have the camera up so they could see their yard better.
What Do I Do If It’s True?
Let’s address the worst-case scenario. You found out that your neighbor’s security camera is staring directly into your house, and you know they’re doing it on purpose. What should you do?
Step 1: Talk to the Neighbor
The first thing you should do in a situation like this is to try and talk to your neighbor. Go to their house directly and have a polite conversation about the camera. And I cannot emphasize this enough — you HAVE to be polite, but direct. Let your neighbor know that you don’t appreciate the camera pointing to your windows and that you feel uncomfortable.
But don’t just go on about your own problems. Remember to ask the neighbor why they’re pointing the camera at your house, to begin with. If they claim it’s the best position to see their yard and that it doesn’t catch anything from your house, kindly ask to see the recordings. On the other hand, they might have suffered from one of the problems I mentioned earlier (eg., someone stealing their mail or harassing them). You might just come to an understanding and make a deal about the cameras in general.
Step 2: Seek Outside Help
Sometimes, talking to the neighbor might not be possible, for a variety of reasons. If that happens, try and find out as much as you can from other neighbors. Local community justice officials and neighborhood organizations can also be of help. They’ll be especially useful if your neighbor isn’t reasonable about the issue.
Outside help also includes doing a little digging. For example, you might want to research the camera model your neighbor uses. There are several reasons you should do this:
- You’ll find out if the camera is a fake or not
- The internet can provide you with the camera’s specifics, including the area and angle visible in the shot
- You can learn how to obstruct its point of view
In addition, make sure to research the local laws regarding security cameras and recording. That way, you can confirm if your neighbor is doing anything illegal or not.
Step 3: Seek Legal Action
If you know that your neighbor is 100% spying on you, you should act quickly. Contact your attorney or your local law enforcement and ask them for advice. They’ll let you know if there’s a basis for a lawsuit once they learn more about the situation. But don’t start suing anybody without proper evidence.
Step 4: Obstruct Their Cameras Legally
Did all else fail? Then the next step is to obstruct the view of the camera. You can do this by planting bushes, shrubs, tall plants, and trees. They can block the view of the camera and hide your exposed windows from sight.
While you wait for the shrubbery to grow, erect a large, tall fence and add some hedges. Furthermore, buy thick, dark curtains or blinds for your windows. You can even place other items in your yard to block the view, including:
- Patio furniture
- A fountain
- Posts with cloth flags
- Tall sports equipment (trampolines, baskets, etc.)
- If you have kids, huge bouncy castles
Finally, get a surveillance system of your own. Your cameras will record any motion that your neighbor’s equipment does, so you’ll have actual video evidence of what they’re doing. But you don’t need to bother installing them in places where nothing is happening (like the corner of a house, for example). Even if the neighbor continues to record this area, they will get nothing from it.
How Not to Approach the Problem
First and foremost, do not try to destroy your neighbor’s camera physically. In other words, don’t try to break it with a rock, yank or cut the cables, throw items at it, or spill any liquid on it. By doing that, you’re inflicting property damage, and your neighbor can sue you for it.
In addition, don’t try to disrupt the camera with lasers, jammers, LEDs, or spray paint. Hacking into the camera system is also a bad idea.
Next, there’s the approach. I emphasized that you have to be overly nice with your neighbor when you talk to them about the problem. If you come to their house kicking and screaming, you can expect a negative, even violent reaction. It’s also an extremely bad idea to rile up your other neighbors without evidence. A false accusation can destroy your neighbor’s life and even land you in jail. Even if what the neighbor is doing is creepy and wrong, you must be tactful.
I get it, it’s not easy talking about this subject. Luckily, there are quite a few websites out there discussing how legal it is for the neighbor to point their camera at you, as well as steps to prevent it. Hopefully, I managed to shed some light on the matter so you could talk to your neighbors about this and have it all sorted out. After all, they might just be using the camera to catch a thief, which is a good reason for you to get a security system as soon as possible.
Articles like this one are extremely important for our safety. I’ve had bad run-ins with the neighbors, and I wouldn’t want anyone to go through the same ordeal. But please, let me know in the comments if you found this article helpful and kindly share it on your social media.
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