Surveillance, GPS Trackers and Hidden Recorders: Are they legal?

By Josh Harrison

When it comes to covert surveillance or the use of surveillance devices, the laws do vary from country to country. It can be difficult to know if using a hidden recording device to catch a cheater is considered legal. The below is a rough guide to when and where you are allowed to use these types of techniques and devices legally. Remember, there is a lot of grey area when it comes to these devices and people’s privacy. You should always read up on the most recent laws at your state’s level as well as federal laws.

Covert Surveillance

Covert Surveillance

If you plan on following someone covertly from a distance, this is widely considered legal. The point at which this becomes illegal is when the person being followed is aware of the surveillance and feels harassed or intimidated. It’s always best to keep a distance between you and the subject so as to not arouse suspicion. If you are following in a vehicle, always keep a few cars behind but not so much that you loose them.

USA, UK, Canada & Australia: Legal as long as there is no intent to intimidate or harass the person under surveillance.

Hidden Cameras

Hidden camera

The stance on the legal use of hidden cameras tends to be fairly similar across the board. Covert filming can be performed in public places as long as you’re not secretly filming things like public toilets or people at the beach. Hidden cameras can also be legally fitted in your home. Although there are similar conditions to public filming to ensure the privacy of people who may be unaware of the camera.

You may be wondering how the media get away with secret recordings in those ‘sting’ type shows. There are usually separate laws for journalists when the end result is considered news.

USA, UK, Canada & Australia: Only legal in public places (excludes lewd recordings such as women in bikinis, etc) and your own premises (excludes rooms where ‘private activities’ are conducted such as the toilet or bathroom). Remember to read our guide on the best hidden cameras currently on the market.

Hidden Audio Recorders

Audio recorder

The UK seems to have some of the loosest laws on covert audio recording. In both public and in your home it is legal to install an audio bugging device without the consent of any parties involved. The laws are quite different for Canada & Australia where anyone involved in the recording must consent in advance. Without permission from all parties, the act of recording audio with a hidden device would be considered illegal. The USA has similar thoughts on hidden audio recording with some states requiring at least one person to consent to the recording while others require the consent of all participants.

USA: The majority of US states do allow covert audio recordings. Although, at least one party must agree to the recording. 12 of the states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington) require the consent of all participants.

UK: Legal to use in public places and in private property that you own (such as your house or office if you own it).

Canada & Australia: Without the permission of the people being recorded, audio recordings are illegal.

GPS Trackers

GPS tracking

GPS Trackers are generally used to track luxury items such as phones and cars. The technology can also track people when they are carrying these devices and this is where the law steps in. UK & Australia have complete bans on the use of GPS devices to track people unless they have been given permission to do so. The US & Canada on the other hand deem GPS tracking to be legal as long as you own the object being tracked. In this case, consent is not required from the person ‘attached’ to the object being tracked.

USA & Canada: Legal only if you are the owner of the object being tracked (e.g. you are the owner of a car that contains a GPS tracker).

UK: Generally, GPS Trackers are illegal without consent from the person being tracked. They are allowed to be used by private investigators registered with the ICO.

Australia: Illegal without the expressed permission of the person being tracked.


NOTE: Check the current laws in your area before you use any surveillance techniques or devices. The writer and do not claim to be lawyers. They take no responsibility for any actions taken from reading this article nor do they condone surveillance or accessing other peoples private data.

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