Problems with neighbors are not uncommon. Whether your neighbor consistently parks in your parking spot, or paints their house with obnoxiously offensive colors, neighbors are likely to disagree at some point.
Respect for privacy is one of the most desirable traits in a neighbor. Of course, communities are better off when neighbors are welcoming and engage with one another, but we all have the right to privacy if we wish to exercise it. And the overall trend has been towards recognizing greater privacy protections, even while technology and social media increase access to, and distribution of, more and more private information.
The right to privacy has expanded greatly over a century’s worth of decisions from Courts in the United States. This essential right splits into two main categories: the right to privacy from governmental intrusion, and the right to privacy from fellow citizens. The right to privacy from government intrusion limits some of the ways in which the government may exert power and influence over its citizens. This is not the subject of this post. The right of privacy from fellow citizens, what this post is about, dictates how we interact with one another and how far one can go before “crossing the line” and challenging the other’s right to privacy.
But what does “crossing the line” look like when it comes to your fellow residents? It can be difficult to determine whether your rights are being violated by a neighbor’s actions or if they are simply an annoyance. The right to privacy provides legal protection from various forms of criminal activity such as trespassing, harassment, and stalking. These are very broad crimes that can include many different behaviors, but they all violate the victim’s right to privacy. However, not all problematic intrusions into one’s privacy will constitute criminal conduct.
Another potential invasion of privacy falls under the practice of surveillance. Over the last decade, there has been a national trend for homeowners to install home security systems on their property. Often these home security systems include alarms, sensors, and security cameras. This trend in home security poses an interesting question often asked in relation to our right to privacy: “can someone focus their security cameras on a neighbor’s home without invading the neighbor’s right to privacy?”
In order to answer this question, it is important to explore how far the right to privacy can be stretched. A “reasonable expectation of privacy” is the backbone for one’s right to privacy. The best example of a place where one enjoys a reasonable expectation of privacy is inside their home. Privacy inside the home is a sacred element of society that dates back to the earliest days of property ownership. Property ownership comes with a bundle of rights, and one of the most revered rights in the bundle is the right to exclude others from entering the property. Also, one does not need to be a homeowner for the law to protect that expectation; tenants who rent a living space are also protected by the law.
Minnesota has enacted “Peeping Tom” criminal laws that prohibit conduct such as spying through the windows of another’s home or using a recording device while looking through a window (such as a video camera). See Minnesota Statute § 609.746 (2017). However, a key aspect of these laws is that the perpetrator must be spying on the inside of the other’s home because the victim has a reasonable expectation of privacy only within their home. Further, to violate this law in relation to observations at a residence, one must physically enter onto the other person’s property. Id.
In general, one does not enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy outside of their home. However, the expectation can fluctuate if the person takes measures to increase their privacy, like erecting a fence. But once they step outside the expectation of privacy usually diminishes quickly.
More broadly, it is illegal in Minnesota to “intrude upon another’s seclusion.” This law has been described as “an intrusion that is highly offensive into some matter in which a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy. For example, breaking into a dressing room at a department store while someone is trying on clothes, causing them extraordinary embarrassment, is an intrusion upon another’s seclusion. Intruding upon another’s seclusion is an invasion of the right to privacy.
Because one generally does not enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy outside of their home, it is likely that a security camera affixed to one’s own property and aimed at another’s property does not violate any law or intrude upon another’s seclusion. There are likely exceptions, of course. Raising a camera up to look over a fence and into someone’s bedroom, for instance, would likely be problematic. Focusing a security camera on a neighbor’s front yard could also be a piece to a different crime such as stalking or harassment, but those crimes depend on the rest of the puzzle like the history between the neighbors, and prior instances of inappropriate behavior. But overall, the fact that a neighbor’s camera view includes some of your property does not render it illegal surveillance.
Our communities continue to expand, and we will continue to live next to one another, so people will inevitably run into problems with their neighbors. The best way to deal with these problems is to communicate openly and respect one another’s right to privacy. However, once the line is crossed, it may be time to act and retain an attorney. An attorney can help you control the situation in a variety of ways, such as facilitating communications with law enforcement, obtaining a Harassment Restraining Order, or filing a lawsuit.
Contact Wilson Law Group today if you are being harassed, stalked, spied on, or if someone is publishing sensitive photos or video of you without your permission. Our Civil Litigation lawyers are ready to help you protect your privacy from prying eyes and nefarious intentions. Please call 612-436-7100 to schedule a free, initial consultation.