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Q&A: Peeping Tom

Q Strangers, whom no residents know, were found lurking the hallways of our building. Now a neighbor across the hall from me would like to install a security camera inside their door, facing the hall. The camera does not capture my door, but it does capture the space between my door and the elevator down the hall. It is impossible to leave the building from my unit without crossing through the frame of this security camera. Management tells me my neighbor has complete control over the camera's footage, and I believe it has private information of my family's whereabouts and activity. Do I have any privacy rights over this door camera?

—Camera-Shy in Chicago

A “Yes, individuals have privacy rights regarding audio and video surveillance by neighbors, but the standard is high in order to have legal remedies against the other owner,” says Jennifer O’Reilly, an associate with the law firm of Levenfeld Pearlstein in Chicago. “In Illinois, an owner can bring an action for intrusion upon the seclusion of another. This action is defined as 'consisting solely of an intentional interference with a person’s interest in solitude or seclusion, either as to his person or as to his private affairs or concerns, of a kind that would be highly offensive to a reasonable man.' The intrusion must be unauthorized, highly offensive and of a private matter.

“In a 2005 Illinois case, an owner brought an action against his neighbor for intrusion upon the seclusion of another for placing security cameras facing the garage, driveway and side-door area of plaintiff’s home. In that case, the court ruled against the plaintiff stating that the plaintiff did not prove that the intrusion was into a private matter because any passerby could see what the camera saw, just from a different angle.

“If, however, the cameras record audio communication without your consent, the owner of the camera is in violation of the Federal Wiretap Act and Illinois eavesdropping laws, which could impose imprisonment as a penalty.

“If the video surveillance cameras are not recording a private matter, but there are still concerns regarding privacy, you may bring the issue to the Board of Directors of the condominium or homeowner association. The board may investigate whether the cameras are recording audio communication or whether the cameras can be repositioned so as to balance the owner’s security concerns with your privacy concerns.”