Real Estate Trends & Advice - Is Spying Legal?

Is Spying Legal?
By Jim Palmer Jr.

Some years ago I was showing a home to buyers who noticed we were being videotaped in almost every room of the house.  It wasn’t until later I realized our voices had also been recorded by the sneaky use of a baby monitor.  I felt lucky that I had previously cautioned my buyers to be careful what they said in or around the homes we were viewing, mostly so that we didn’t give up any information to the sellers that could give them an advantage in a negotiation.  My buyers felt violated especially since they knew it was illegal to record someone’s voice without consent.

Washington’s wiretapping law is a two-party consent law.  That means it’s a crime to intercept or record a telephone call, in-person conversation, or electronic communication unless all parties to the communication give consent.  You can satisfy the consent requirement by announcing to all parties engaged in the conversation, in a reasonably effective manner, that the communication is about to be recorded.  In the above related case that notice might have been as simple as a big note on the front door informing visitors they would be recorded on the premises if they agreed to enter.  It would also have been a good idea to give that notice in the MLS listing data.  Generally speaking, property owners have the right to record video on their property without the need for consent, however audio recordings require consent.

With the advent of technology such as “Ring doorbell apps” that allow owners to interact on their cell phone with door bell ringers (or package thieves), the lines can get blurred on what’s legal or not.  Some states are moving towards less restriction for homeowners to gain consent before recording and police are even cooperating with home owners to use facial recognition software in their doorbell cameras in order to deter or capture thieves.

The story is told of a man who stopped by the side of a deserted road to pilfer some corn on the cob growing there.  He was careful to look both ways to make sure no one was watching, but his young son said, “Dad, you forgot to look up!”  Of course most of us recognize that All-Seeing-Eye in the sky, but it seems like the age is upon us where it will be hard to avoid being recorded in some way or another.  Are we really ready to go there?





Jim Palmer, Jr.

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