There is a reasonable amount of confusion over audio recording and security cameras. Do security cameras have audio? Is it legal? And if so, how can you tell if a security camera is recording audio?
Whether you’re worried about being recorded illegally in a public space or just want to double check if your own security camera is capable of recording audio, read on to learn how you can tell through our five easy methods, and find out what you need to know about the legality of cctv with audio in the US.
In a nutshell, most IP cameras available on the market are capable of recording audio. Two-way audio is also a common feature of modern security cameras that work with a phone. It’s not uncommon for IP cameras to pick up the entirety of these two-way interactions when recording.
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Method 1: Overt Speaker
This visual check will be most useful if the camera in question is an IP camera (i.e. a consumer-grade security camera that functions via Wi-Fi). IP cameras share similar design traits, and most cameras with audio will have an overt speaker on the back of the device.
Of course, the placement might vary, so look around if you can (it could be on the top or the underside of the device). But for the most part, you’ll find what looks like dozens of holes in a circular shape on the back of the device.
Though the microphone itself isn’t always contained within this cluster of holes, it’s still a very strong indication that the camera has audio capabilities.
Method 2: Single Small Hole
Some speakers may be more subtle than others, or otherwise the camera in question is positioned so that it is impossible to see. If that’s the case, you can instead look out for a single hole smaller than a pinhead.
If there isn’t text printed next to it reading ‘reset’, this is guaranteed to be the camera’s microphone. As mentioned, microphones aren’t always positioned in the same place as speakers, and more often than not you’ll find them on the front of the device near the lens.
This is because it’s easier for the camera to pick up audio if the microphone faces in the same direction as the lens (which faces the subject being recorded).
Method 3: Serial Number
Conventional security cameras with audio, like those used in public spaces, will prove more challenging to ascertain whether they can record or not, since they probably won’t have obvious features like speakers on them.
In fact, they may not have any native audio functions whatsoever. The easiest way to find out if you’re being recorded or not is to turn to Google. You’ll find the camera’s serial number on a sticker, usually placed on the underside of the camera.
If the camera is mounted, this should be pretty easy to spot. A quick search for the camera model should then reveal if it is a camera with audio recording.
Method 4: External Microphones
If a serial number is impossible to find, checking for external microphones is your next best bet if you want to find out if you’ve got a camera with audio recording on your hands.
Often, conventional CCTV that interfaces with a DVR/NVR (the kind you’ll find in most public spaces) does not have native audio support. Hybrid connections can be used to facilitate it, but if the camera has no microphone built in, audio recording will have to be conducted separately.
The microphone will be much smaller, spherical or box shaped, and just a couple of inches in diameter. It may also appear as a kind of small stick at the end of a wire, which can be taped to the camera itself.
If you spot something mounted that looks like a miniature smoke alarm with wires popping out of it, it’s an external mic.
Method 5: DVR/NVR Connections
Speaking of wires, another solid means of determining audio recording capabilities is to know what types of connections to look out for. After all, if hidden surveillance is the goal of the user, the microphone itself might be pretty well-concealed.
The wires, on the other hand, won’t be so easy to hide. Most traditional CCTV uses coaxial cables (see below), which do not support native audio transfer. These are thick and difficult to conceal, so you’ll usually notice them being fed inside the wall where a camera is recording.
Hybrid coaxial cables are used for audio transfer (see below). Where ordinary coaxial cables are concerned, you can rest assured that audio isn’t being recorded. On the other hand, Ethernet cables (see below), which can be used alongside NVRs, can transfer audio. These are much thinner wires, and you’ll recognize these from your own broadband at home.
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Understanding the Laws Around Audio Recording
The laws regulating audio surveillance vary around the world and state-by-state. In the US, 24 states outlaw the use of hidden cameras in private places.
38 states, including New York and Texas, follow the ‘one-party consent’ rule which allows for conversations to be recorded with one party’s consent, but without telling the other party.
That means the person choosing to record can do so without another person’s permission so long as they themselves are in the conversation.
12 states, including California and Washington, do not allow recording of a conversation without the express consent of every party involved.
In some places, having signs that say ‘audio recording in progress’ may be sufficient enough to be considered implied consent from people entering the space.
If no one being recorded knows that they are being recorded, this can be tried under wiretapping laws.
Do security cameras have audio?
IP security cameras almost always have the ability to record audio, though you can usually opt to turn this on and off. Conventional CCTV cameras used in public spaces, on the other hand, rarely do. Coaxial cables used to connect the camera to a DVR do not natively support audio. Additionally, there exists certain expectations of privacy, issues around legality, and storage capacity, because recording audio alongside video significantly increases file size.
Can you hear on security cameras?
IP security cameras regularly feature two-way audio, meaning you can listen to what the camera picks up and also use the controller device to communicate through the camera’s speaker in real time. Traditional CCTV cameras usually need an external microphone to be connected, and if the camera does have a native microphone, audio can’t be heard in real time, requiring a hybrid coaxial cable to transfer it to the DVR. Speakers on traditional CCTV cameras are unheard of.
Can CCTV systems record sounds?
Fully integrated CCTV systems may come with external microphones that can be used to capture audio. Hybrid coaxial cables can be used to transfer audio to a DVR, or if the camera interfaces with an NVR, Ethernet cables can instead be used.
Is it legal to have cameras with audio in the workplace?
Specific laws on audio recording in the workplace vary state-by-state. For example, in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington, express consent is required of all parties being recorded.
Elsewhere, a one-party consent rule applies, where only one person being recorded (yes, this can be the person doing the recording so long as they are involved in the conversation) must consent to it. If no one consents, this is wiretapping, which is subject to its own laws. Generally, however, a right to privacy does exist in the workplace, and it would be considered invasive to record all conversations of employees.
Is it legal to record audio on security cameras?
California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington all require the express consent of all parties being recorded. In other states, there exists a one-party consent rule, where only one person being recorded has to give express consent. If no one is informed that they are being recorded, then this can be tried as wiretapping.
Why do surveillance cameras tend to never have sound?
Surveillance cameras don’t usually have sound because coaxial cables do not natively support audio. Aside from that, audio alongside video creates exceptionally large file sizes if surveilling 24/7, so opting not to record audio is a useful means of reducing the file size.
Laws about being recorded on video in public are generally much more relaxed than being recorded on audio, because audio recording can easily constitute wiretapping if there is no consent or knowledge. A reasonable expectation to be recorded on video exists in public spaces like stores, restaurants, and banks. The same can’t be said of audio.
Do shops record audio on their CCTV?
Shops rarely record audio on their CCTV. Aside from reducing file sizes and avoiding potential privacy violations, there simply isn’t much need to record audio for security purposes in a shop.
How do you know if a security camera is recording?
Security cameras are recording if they have a light blinking. This is usually red, but may also be green, orange, or some other color. The light is known as a ‘status LED’. These can be used to communicate various states the camera is in. But generally speaking, if it’s on, the camera is recording. If the camera turns, it is also recording. For more on how you can tell if a security camera is recording, check out our article.
What does a red light on a security camera mean?
A red light on a security camera could either be the status LED (in which case it suggests the camera is on and recording) or it could be an infrared light. Infrared is used in night vision to create an image when light sources are diminished. If the environment is dark, you might notice the red bulbs inside or near the lens. If you’re curious about how this works, you can find out more in our article on night vision.
Do McDonald’s cameras have audio?
It would be unusual, unlikely, and pretty much pointless for a McDonald’s restaurant to use audio. If you’ve ever been inside one, you’ll be well acquainted with just how loud the beeping of the fryer is! However, there exists some reports that McDonald’s drive-thru does in fact record you, even when the restaurant workers’ microphones are turned off. McDonald’s has denied these claims, saying that both the images and audio used to take orders through the drive-thru are not retained.
Though laws are varied—with an alarming majority of US states following a ‘one-party consent’ rule—audio recording remains quite unusual in public spaces. Reasonable expectations of video recording are universal in public, whereas audio recording isn’t. It can be more invasive, creates unmanageably large files, and, above all, isn’t actually very useful when it comes to security.
Having eyes on customers and pedestrians is already a trusted and sufficient way to survey an area in public, whether inside or out. There simply isn’t much use for audio.
But that isn’t to say some won’t try and bend the rules of reasonable expectations, which is why it can be handy to know just how you can determine if a security camera is recording audio or not.
If you feel you are being recorded without your consent or knowledge in the workplace or elsewhere, it’s important to take this concern seriously, as this could be considered wiretapping.
This content was originally published here.