Welcome to Sisters In Law, news.com.au’s weekly column solving all of your legal problems. This week, our resident lawyers and real-life sisters, Alison and Jillian Barrett from Maurice Blackburn, explain the legalities of being filmed without consent.
QUESTION: I live as a full-time house sitter which means I don’t have a permanent home and instead look after people’s pets, plants and houses in exchange for accommodation. It has worked out well for me so far – I haven’t paid rent for almost three years! The thing is, I’ve recently noticed that a lot of people are setting up stealth cameras around their homes while I’m there. I have tackled a couple of house-sit clients about it as I don’t feel comfortable being filmed. They’ve apologised and given excuses such as “Sorry, we forgot we’d left that on” and “Oh, sorry, that was for us to check on the cat, not you”. But I can’t help but feel like I’m being spied on. Is it legal to film someone without them knowing, even if it’s in your home? – Kaz, Vic
ANSWER: As you have discovered, in this era where hidden camera technology is state of the art and anyone can purchase devices online, no one can be sure they aren’t being filmed, even behind closed doors.
In Australia there is no right to privacy outlined in the Constitution.
To enforce our rights, we need to look at past cases as well as laws made by the Commonwealth and State governments. These laws all vary, creating challenges when working out what your rights are.
In Victoria where you live, there are laws regarding the use of surveillance devices, including cameras, in both public and private settings.
These laws are primarily governed by the Surveillance Devices Act 1999.
This Act says it is generally illegal to make a recording or take photos of someone without their consent in circumstances where it would be reasonably expected that they would be given privacy, are in a private place or engaging in a private act.
This could be in your home or the home you are housesitting, or when you are engaging in acts like showering or undressing.
But there are exceptions to this general rule. For instance, if the homeowner had a reasonable belief that the recording was necessary to protect their lawful interests, they may not need to seek your consent.
From what you have described, it appears unlikely they would have a lawful reason to require the cameras. For example, there are no suspicions about your trustworthiness, and no allegations of theft or mistreatment of animals.
Having the cameras to check on their pets would not be sufficient justification under the law.
There are provisions in the law relating to the use of surveillance devices to monitor the activities of employees or contractors.
However, it is questionable as to whether this would apply to you given the cameras are filming you doing private acts where you are you living.
It is unclear if you have any written agreement with the people you are housesitting for. If you do, you should carefully review the terms of that agreement to determine if you have consented to the cameras without realising.
The use of the surveillance cameras without your consent could potentially be a violation of the law and land the offenders in jail for up to 2 years or with fines of up to $46,154.
Before you agree to house-sit again, we’d recommend you ask the homeowners if they have any surveillance cameras installed.
If they do, you should clarify the purpose of any cameras, and advise the homeowners that you do not consent to them.
If they continue to use recording devices without your consent you should contact the police for advice.
This legal information is general in nature and should not be regarded as specific legal advice or relied upon. Persons requiring particular legal advice should consult a solicitor. If you have a legal question you would like Alison and Jillian to answer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Get more from Alison and Jillian on their Facebook page.