Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: My neighbor has a camera facing right into my bedroom. It doesn’t go anywhere else, just right into my bedroom. I can see it while sitting on my toilet. I called the Asheville Police, and there is no law against it. He has the legal right to put a camera staring into my bedroom. I called the sheriff. They could find no statute, either. I’m wondering why my privacy can be invaded by my neighbor. Then the Asheville Police Officer told me, “Oh, just put your mini blinds down.” So I don’t have the right to sunshine or opening my windows or opening my mini blinds because I’m being filmed every time I go to the bathroom or walk through my bedroom or put on my bedroom TV? So I’m wondering if we could get to the bottom of this. Seems a little weird, like peeping Tom type stuff. But it’s scary. It’s just activated as we speak.
My answer: Clearly, it’s time for a bathroom-mounted searchlight at your home aimed right at your neighbor’s camera. Hey, all’s fair in love and invasion of privacy, or something like that.
Real answer: The Asheville Police Department referred me to Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams on this one, but he declined official comment.
But this kind of activity is not legal. North Carolina does have a “peeping tom” law, general statute 14-202, that addresses the issue of looking into someone else’s rooms.
Regarding “secretly peeping into (a) room occupied by another person,” the law states: “Any person who shall peep secretly into any room occupied by another person shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”
The statute notes, “A person guilty of this offense, peeps secretly into a room occupied by another person.” The statute actually has some interesting language.
Under the “elements” of the crime, it defines “peep” as to “look cautiously or slyly—as if through a crevice—out from chinks and knotholes.”
Also, “Peeping must be intentional and for the purpose of invading the privacy of the occupant of the room,” the statute notes. A “room” includes, but is not limited to, “a bedroom, a restroom, a bathroom, a shower, and a dressing room.”
Using “any device which may be used to create a photographic image,” while secretly peeping into a room is a Class A1 misdemeanor, the statute states. And If you use that photographic image, which can include video, for “the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of any person,” that can be a Class I felony.
One legal expert I spoke with, who did not want to be named, said, “You may be charged if you point a camera into an area [that] a reasonable person would assume to be concealed from public view.”
Jorge Redmond, senior attorney with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office Legal Risk Department, said via email that, “North Carolina does not have a specific law regarding hidden cameras in private places.
“Owning a video surveillance camera is legal, if it is on their own property and not used in a nefarious manner,” Redmond said. “You can put a surveillance camera anywhere where there is not an expectation of privacy.”
“If your neighbor’s security camera happens to record the yard, front door, and driveway, which are also visible from public areas, you can’t press charges,” Redmond continued. “These are areas that are visible to the public, and so you don’t have any reasonable expectation of privacy in these sections of your property.”
I will note that at one point I had a neighbor with a lot of security cameras that were pointed at the street and likely my house, too. Also, Google Earth drives around every neighborhood in America, taking pictures of the fronts of our houses.
So yes, it’s a little unnerving when neighbors have cameras that can see the front of your house, but it’s not illegal.
“As invasive and uncomfortable as it sounds, neighbors are perfectly within their rights to point their security cameras at others’ property,” Redmond said. “However, [they] would have to provide sufficient reasoning behind it pointing at a bathroom and not a public area like a front door, yard, or driveway.”
Clearly, this can become a complex matter, but it’s also clear that you should have a right to privacy in your own bathroom.
“The neighbor should have to answer why they’ve pointed the camera directly at the bathroom, how the camera is being used, and what they plan to do with the footage,” Redmond said. “I believe, first the neighbors should talk. If nothing changes, then perhaps a complaint should be made and officers should respond to the complaint to speak with the neighbor about the camera positioning.”
Several law firms across the state address “secret peeping” and the issue of doorbell cameras and security cameras on their websites. Of course, people do have the right to use security cameras and doorbell cameras, but you can’t use them for peeping into other people’s homes.
Gilles Law, which practices criminal law in the Carolinas, has a good breakdown of the law in an article titled, “Secretly Peeping in North Carolina.” Beyond the criminal consequences, Gilles Law notes that people who feel their privacy has been violated can bring a civil claim.
“Simply put, the defendant can be sued in addition to facing criminal consequences,” the firm states.
The Woodruff Law Group in Greensboro also has a good article titled, “Invasion of Privacy.”
“North Carolina recognizes the specific tort of invasion of privacy by intrusion into seclusion,” the article states. A tort is an injury or harmful action for which an entity has legal liability. “This type of invasion of privacy includes the intentional intrusion into the seclusion or solitude of another person or their private affairs or concerns, where a reasonable person would find the intrusion highly offensive.”
In yet another article on privacy issues, this one titled, “Are Doorbell Cameras Legal in North Carolina?” the law firm of Riddle & Brantley states, “Privacy laws state that people should have a reasonable expectation of privacy. You can’t aim the camera at a neighbor’s bedroom or bathroom, but public roads or places visible from the street are fair game.”
Again, this is clearly a complex issue, and it’s important to remember on a criminal matter that the state has to prove the case. Police departments and sheriffs’ offices are also stretched thin these days. For instance, the Asheville Police Department announced in June 2021 that due to staffing shortages officers would no longer respond to a variety of non-violent crimes, ranging from thefts under $1,000 with no suspect information, to fraud, scams, and identity theft.
But the peeping law does apply, and you do have some civil legal recourse.
That could involve calling the police again and asking for their intervention, or contacting a local attorney with some expertise in this field.
Good luck with this.
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at email@example.com or 828-337-0941.