Georgia Laws on Spy Cameras

By Emily Jarvis

According to Georgia code, it is a criminal offense against public order and safety and an invasion of privacy to photograph or videotape others in non-public places unless all parties involved have consented. O.C.G.A. § 16-11-62 does include several provisions in which surveillance is permissible, but it is generally unlawful to install spy cameras without the knowledge and consent of the subject of surveillance.

Georgia Code § 16-11-62

The Georgia code concerning eavesdropping, surveillance or intercepting communication which invades the privacy of another appears in Title 16: Crimes and Offenses, Chapter 11: Offenses Against Public Order and Safety, Article 3: Invasion of Privacy, Part 1: Wiretapping, Eavesdropping, Surveillance and Related Offenses. According to the code, it shall be unlawful for:

(1) Any person in a clandestine manner intentionally to overhear, transmit, or record or attempt to overhear, transmit, or record the private conversation of another which shall originate in any private place;

(2) Any person, through the use of any device, without the consent of all persons observed, to observe, photograph, or record the activities of another which occur in any private place and out of public view; provided, however, that it shall not be unlawful:

      (A) To use any device to observe, photograph, or record the activities of persons incarcerated in any jail, correctional institution, or any other facility in which persons who are charged with or who have been convicted of the commission of a crime are incarcerated, provided that such equipment shall not be used while the prisoner is discussing his or her case with his or her attorney;

      (B) For an owner or occupier of real property to use for security purposes, crime prevention, or crime detection any device to observe, photograph, or record the activities of persons who are on the property or an approach thereto in areas where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy; or

      (C) To use for security purposes, crime prevention, or crime detection any device to observe, photograph, or record the activities of persons who are within the curtilage (fenced yard) of the residence of the person using such device. A photograph, videotape, or record made in accordance with this subparagraph, or a copy thereof, may be disclosed by such resident to the district attorney or a law enforcement officer and shall be admissible in a judicial proceeding, without the consent of any person observed, photographed, or recorded;

(3) Any person to go on or about the premises of another or any private place, except as otherwise provided by law, for the purpose of invading the privacy of others by eavesdropping upon their conversations or secretly observing their activities;

(4) Any person intentionally and secretly to intercept by the use of any device, instrument, or apparatus the contents of a message sent by telephone, telegraph, letter, or by any other means of private communication;

(5) Any person to divulge to any unauthorized person or authority the content or substance of any private message intercepted lawfully in the manner provided for in Code Section 16-11-65;

(6) Any person to sell, give, or distribute, without legal authority, to any person or entity any photograph, videotape, or record, or copies thereof, of the activities of another which occur in any private place and out of public view without the consent of all persons observed; or

(7) Any person to commit any other acts of a nature similar to those set out in paragraphs (1) through (6) of this Code section which invade the privacy of another.

Interpretation

The law states that it is illegal to photograph or videotape anyone who is out of public view. Photographs in public places are permissible; if you can "see it from the street" it is generally acceptable to photograph. This means that it is illegal to photograph or record someone in a private home or business, or who cannot be seen from public property (e.g., with the use of a telephoto or long-focus lens). It is also illegal to enter private property for the purpose of eavesdropping or spying. Additionally, it is against the law to sell or distribute videos obtained legally from a private place without the consent of the people observed. These are all considered invasion of privacy under Georgia law.

Exceptions

The code makes three exceptions to the law against videotaping for surveillance. First, videotaping may occur in jails or detention centers to record people charged or convicted of crimes. They may not, however, be used to secretly record meetings of the prisoner with his attorney in which they are discussing the case.

The second exception is for property owners. Property owners may record surveillance of their private property where people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Fourth Amendment protects you from searches that invade your reasonable expectation of privacy. Although you forfeit much of your privacy in public spaces, there are some instances when you have a legitimate right to privacy in publicly-accessible places, such as public restrooms.

The third exception is for security purposes and crime prevention. Home owners may set up video cameras to observe the immediate surroundings of the house. These recordings may be used in police investigations and judicial proceedings without the consent of those recorded.

Federal Law

The federal wiretap law involves only the recording of conversations. One party must consent to the audio recording of a private conversation. Federal law defers to the states for hidden camera laws.

About the Author

Emily Jarvis is a graduate of University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism. Her articles have appeared in "Southern Distinction Magazine" and "The Red & Black." Jarvis holds a Bachelor of Arts in magazine journalism and a Master of Arts in journalism.