Ask LH: Are Homeowners Allowed To Secretly Record Me In Their House?

Dear Lifehacker, I was recently hired to mind a house and some pet birds by a couple who went on holidays. I later discovered I was under active video surveillance for the nine days I spent in their house. (One of the homeowners casually slipped it into conversation during handover.) While I respect their concerns and rights regarding security, I feel this was a continuous breach of my privacy. I was never informed of their intention to monitor me 24/7 and wouldn't have accepted the job if I'd known. So my question is: were they legally entitled to secretly record me or were they breaking the law?

I don't wish to pursue the matter legally but I'm very annoyed and shocked that they violated my privacy by deliberately withholding this information from me. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Ruffled Feathers

Laptop surveillance image via Shutterstock

Dear RF,

It depends on the location of the security cameras and what was being recorded. Each Australian state and territory has its own video surveillance laws — but they all allow individuals to use security cameras inside their property without notifying guests.

The exception is any place where a reasonable person would expect to be afforded privacy. In other words, for your rights to be legally violated the camera would need to be secretly filming in a bedroom, toilet or bathroom.

With that said, there are a number of related laws that these people may have broken. For example, in NSW and the ACT it is forbidden to record private conversations without consent. If you were talking on the phone or had friends over, you can request that all recorded conversations be deleted. If they refuse, you have cause to get the police involved.

Likewise, if you were walking around in the bollocky for some reason — moving from the bathroom to the bedroom, for example — any recordings they keep of your genital or anal region could potentially land them in jail. If you feel you might have been inadvertently filmed in the nude, you should probably contact the police.

Otherwise, the homeowners didn't break any laws here. Some would even argue they did nothing wrong morally. (Much like with nanny cams, you're not going to catch any crimes if you warn house sitters that they're being recorded.)

It's definitely an annoying situation and there's no easy solution. You can't even ask about it directly during the interview or they'll think you're asking for nefarious purposes.

In future, the best course of action is to assume you're being recorded whenever you house-sit. Save the nose-picking until you get home.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    I would take them to court. You didn't consent. If they told you *before* handing over the keys, that would be consent. Telling you at the end. Dubious.

      Did you even read the response? Or just the introduction/question?

    So someone has cameras installed in their house. NO you wouldn;t turn them off if you were going on holiday! That's just silly. I would totally do it too. There's a reason "nanny cams" are called what they are. It's their house, their property they can do what they like.

      The article in referencing state and federal law seems to indicate that no, they can't do whatever they like.

        i didn't mean it in a literal sense. I meant that they can install cameras in their house, because it's their house. References articles you speak of talk about NSW and ACT, OP could be in another state? also author goes on to say "Each Australian state and territory has its own video surveillance laws — but they all allow individuals to use security cameras inside their property without notifying guests." I bolded that for you just incase you missed it

    Guilt them and give them a bit a paranoia "Damn it, why didnt you tell me before you left... usually the first sign someone is planning to break into a place is they tamper with the cameras and then come back a few days later after any images of them tampering with the cameras are overwritten"

    "you’re not going to catch any crimes if you warn house sitters that they’re being recorded."

    Presumably this statement is because in those circumstances, no crimes will be committed to be caught. Plus the house sitter is fully informed and does not feel the shock or violation of the OP. That sounds like a win-win scenario to me. Prevention is way better than cure, particularly when the cure would involve all the time and hassle (for all parties) of a court process.

    Also did OP not notice the cameras at all? were they hidden couch casting cameras or something? If i see a camera anywhere i assume I am being recorded. That said I would be a little ticked off but the home owners have done nothing wrong. A lot of houses have cameras these days maybe the homeowner didn't think to tell OP that they were installed and were recording constantly ,etc. For instance you know you're going away on holiday you're talking to the house sitter ,etc... bins go out this day, mittens has this much dry food... ohh and there's cameras everywhere.... That's not something i could see myself saying? just my honest opionion. However! if i was OP i would actually ask if the homeowners are happy with the state of the house and stuff that if they could please delete the footage of me.

    Last edited 04/06/16 9:59 pm

    I've got security cameras at home. All are exterior cameras though as there have been a number of incidents in the street recently, feel a little creepy having internal cameras.

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