Ask LH: Am I Allowed To Secretly Film Roommates Suspected Of Stealing?

Dear Lifehacker, I live in an apartment with three flatmates and I suspect one of them may be stealing from me. The problem is, I don’t know which one! Am I allowed to set up a surveillance camera without telling them? What are the laws around this? Thanks, Big Brother

Surveillance camera picture from Shutterstock

Dear BB,

As usual, the caveat about receiving advice from a non-lawyer applies here — we don’t pretend to know everything about Australia’s privacy laws and aren’t qualified to offer proper legal advice. With that out of the way, these are the rules as we understand them.

In all states and territories, it is forbidden to record video in a location where a reasonable person would expect to be afforded privacy. If you live in NSW or the ACT, you also cannot record audio conversations without prior consent. (So forget about tying to catch them slagging you off.) You can find an overview of the privacy laws in each state and territory here.

So what constitutes a reasonable person’s expectation of privacy? This obviously covers bedrooms and bathrooms, but a communal living space is somewhat greyer. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of legal precedent in this area, so the laws governing home surveillance aren’t terribly well defined.

Personally, we think you should err on the side of caution. Secretly filming your roommates in the privacy of their own home is unlikely to be viewed favourably by police, even if you catch them doing something naughty. Plus, if the situation ever gets out, it will likely cause significant fallout in your social circle — for every friend who supports your actions, there will be a few who think it was incredibly creepy.

You might be better off setting up the camera in plain view, complete with a sign. (If it’s just pointing at the fridge, cupboard or your bedroom door, they can’t really complain that their privacy is being violated.) This method won’t catch them in the act, but it will put an end to the thieving.

We’re keen to hear from readers on this topic. Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did you resolve it? Let BB know in the comments!


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