Can Security Cameras See Through Tinted Windows – and Is That a Good Idea?

Tonight is going to be a night that you’ll never forget.

You’ve been looking forward to this party for weeks, maybe even months. All of your friends and family will be there, and you’re justifiably excited. You lock up and head out.

You’re about halfway through your dinner when you receive a call from the police. Your home has been the target of a burglary. You race home, only to find that your home has been stripped of its valuables.

Tonight has certainly been a night that you won’t ever forget – but for all the wrong reasons.

The sad truth is that incidents such as these happen all too often in today’s day and age. As home security systems have gotten better at surveilling and catching criminals, so too have those same criminals altered their methods in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the law. The Cold War between the Law and Lawlessness never ends, and so it is imperative that you take the initiative and remain vigilant.

This means making sure that your home is as well-protected against any potential break-ins, vandalism, or other criminal activity as possible, which in turn means installing a home security system.

There are many facets to modern home security systems, from sensor alarms to keypads to means by which to automatically alert the police and so on, but few garner as much attention as do security cameras. On the one hand, they offer a unique ability to protect your home, while they simultaneously allow you to keep track of those who have been hanging around your property.

On the other hand, there are many potential pitfalls that can come with installing new security cameras. These can be technical as well as legal in nature.

Home security systems are not inexpensive. You’re going to want to know what you’re getting into before you put down money on one. That means making sure that you’re ordering home security equipment that is both of high quality and can likewise be used legally.

You’ll also want to ensure that any specific questions you may have are answered in advance of your purchasing a system. Confusion can be costly, and so you want to be clear that you’re getting a system suits your needs perfectly.

This quick guide can help answer some of the most common questions regarding home security cameras, from their legality to their functionality, especially when it comes to common questions such as whether they can see through tinted windows – or whether that’s even a good idea to begin with.

An Overview of Security Camera Legality

A little later on, we’ll break down the pros and cons of situating cameras outside your home as opposed to placing them on the inside and pointing them either inside or out. To begin with, however, let’s take a quick look at the legal situation that governs what’s kosher and what isn’t when it comes to the placement and operation of home security cameras.

Whether or not you have cameras that can see through tinted windows, it’s important to make sure that we don’t have a “rose-tinted view” of the situation here.

It’s worth noting at the outset that the reason that these rules exist is to try and ensure that we do not descend into a police state. That may seem sensible, but that may still leave you confused as to how that affects your decision to put up cameras in your home. After all, you’re not “the state,” let alone Big Brother, so why should your ability to use cameras however you like be affected?

In fact, we’ve hit the nail right on the head with that Big Brother reference. A key component of Orwell’s 1984 is that it isn’t just the tyrannical totalitarian government that’s instilling fear in citizens, but the populace itself. There is a constant atmosphere of surveillance at play in the novel, with characters wary of and, at times, spying and informing on one another. It may be “just a novel,” but given its enduring resonance and some worrying real-world counterparts to Orwell’s fictionalized Oceania, it’s no wonder why we’d like to do anything possible to avoid it.

Posting Cameras Inside Your Home: Legality

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the legal side of posting cameras both inside as well as outside. This is an important precursor to determining how security cameras function when placed behind windows (let alone tinted windows) because we first need to determine the legality of such placement.

Obviously, home security cameras are legal in the United States. That being said, there is a great deal of variation in that legality in terms of both the types of recording devices allowed. This is typically governed by four major factors:

  • Consent
  • Intent
  • Participation
  • Recording in a Public vs. Private Space

There is a great deal of variation in terms of how different states view “consent.”

The following states have Two-Party Consent laws:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania

That means that if you are recording a conversation, you need the consent of all parties involved, with the exception of circumstances in which law enforcement secures permission to wiretap suspects.

All other states and the District of Columbia have One-Party Consent. That said, that doesn’t mean that you can just record anyone at any time in any way in these states. Indeed, the big takeaway here is that whatever technical difficulties exist with respect to home security cameras’ image quality (when looking through tinted windows or otherwise), they’re nothing compared to trying to legally record audio. Perhaps the most important single piece of law to consider in this respect is US Code Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 119, which says, in part:

“Any person who intentionally…manufactures, assembles, possesses, or sells any electronic, mechanical, or other device, knowing or having reason to know that the design of such device renders it primarily useful for the purpose of the surreptitious interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

US Code Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 119

As such, in a strictly legal sense, installing home security cameras that only use video and not audio is probably a far better move.

What does that mean for those other three factors, your security camera setup, and how all of this might impact your impacts cameras’ ability to see through the camera?

Posting Cameras Outside Your Home: Legality

For the answer to those questions, let’s take things outside.

As stated above, consent is a huge component of legal recording, and so is the intent, participation, and whether or not someone is being recorded in a place or situation in which they would have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” For example, it’s obviously both morally and legally wrong to secretly record someone in a bathroom or bedroom.

At best, this is simply shady and a severe invasion of privacy, and at worst it’s a prelude to securing pornographic or other illicit material that can be used for blackmail or other life-destroying purposes.

This is part of the reason that there are so many stipulations for how companies are allowed to place and use their security cameras on their premises – and that’s for a company. A private residence recording others in a private space can be much harder to navigate legally.

That’s one reason that situating cameras on the outside of your property can be much easier.

When you have cameras in your home, those questions of consent and privacy loom large. When they’re positioned outside, by contrast, in clear view of others, or with signs up saying that you have cameras in operation on your property, “a reasonable expectation of privacy” is, if not waived, far more flexible.

Since the cameras are visible, people know that they’re being recorded. As such, it’s harder to argue that their privacy is being unknowingly violated. It also helps deal with those questions of intent, participation, and the Private vs. Public Space, because:

  • Posting cameras outside makes your intent of surveillance for home security purposes far clearer than cameras within your home in different hallways and rooms where others might expect privacy
  • For conversations, especially in Two-Party Consent states, participation in a conversation on your part is key to its being legal, so posting non-audio-recording cameras outside can make it clear that you’re not looking to record private conversations, thus helping avoid that complication
  • Cameras that face outward from your home are surveilling private space that you own as well as public space nearby – far more legally tenable than surveilling random people in public places or people within a private space, where a “reasonable expectation of privacy” is greater

All of those factors mean that if you post a camera outside your home, you’re almost always far better off legally-speaking than if you place them inside your home – tinted windows or no. In fact, the tinted windows can raise huge concerns legally-speaking, because they can help conceal the cameras in question. As stated above, for private citizens especially, the more visible your cameras are, the better off you are, legally-speaking, in terms of navigating those questions of consent and intent.

Concealing your cameras behind tinted windows can make it seem as though you’re trying to surveil people without giving them that fair warning by placing the cameras outside or, at the very least, in clearly-visible parts within your home.

All in all, from a legal standpoint, you’re far better off not placing your cameras behind tinted windows, or in any other position within your home that might conceal them and thus complicate their legality.

Posting Cameras Inside Your Home: Functionality

Now that we’ve gotten the philosophical and legal considerations out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the actual practical functionality at play here. Which works better – posting cameras inside or outside your home?

That largely depends on what you intend those cameras to do.

If you are looking to surveil people within your home, obviously it’s easier to have the cameras inside your property. While it is completely possible to do so legally, as stated above, it’s also complicated.

But let’s say that you think that the legal situation is fine – what will the picture quality be like if you have cameras inside and have them facing out a window.

Not that great.

Glare is a massive problem in this regard. As light hits your window, as it obviously will, it creates glare, which your camera will pick up. While glare is always a problem for cameras regardless of their placement, filing from inside a glass raises a whole host of problems regarding brightness, reflections, and refraction.

Cars, light posts, your TV, the sun, any LED displays or blinking lights, including that of the camera itself – the camera lens can pick it all up, creating a hazy, oversaturated, unclear picture. In addition, if you are using cameras that utilize motion detection technology, that functionality can be severely limited if they are shooting through glass.

And no, tinted windows don’t tend to help the situation. While this may reduce some of the glare from some external light sources, such as the sun, you still have the problem of your window’s innate reflectiveness. As such, you’ll still have to grapple with all the problems that this introduces.

You’ll still have to deal with any light within the room itself – including any produced by the camera – bouncing off those windows and being picked up by the camera lens. What’s more, shooting through tinted windows is naturally going to result in a darker picture.

While there are certain measures you might be able to take to correct this point, given those aforementioned problems of reflection and refraction and the fact that filming through another surface will never produce image quality as clear as if you shoot unimpeded, it frankly isn’t worth the trouble.

Posting Cameras Outside Your Home: Functionality

By contrast, posting cameras outside your home can clear up many of those problems in a hurry. Without a window in the way, you don’t have to concern yourself with those problems of reflection and refraction. The issue of glare is still going to exist, but you can counteract that by placing your camera in areas which are naturally shady or else erecting some apparatus around the camera so as to shade its lens without totally obscuring the camera itself.

Posting Cameras Inside Your Home: Aesthetics

It may seem odd to think about aesthetics when it comes to security cameras. That being said, you probably do care about your home’s interior and exterior décor, and cameras can have a significant impact on that. So, how does the positioning of your cameras with and without tinted windows affect your home’s aesthetic appearance?

Posting cameras inside your home can naturally be a bit of a drawback to your interior décor. No one likes to feel as though they are constantly being watched, and, well, that’s sort of the point of posting cameras on your property. When you post your cameras inside, however, you’re bringing that feeling closer to home because of that aforementioned “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

But let’s say that your cameras aren’t facing inward, but they are facing outward through those aforementioned tinted windows. Well, how would you feel about a van with tinted windows parked outside your home all of the time? Chances are you’d feel ill at ease – which is probably how guests will perceive your camera and tinted window setup.

Posting Cameras Outside Your Home: Aesthetics

But maybe that’s part of the reason that you chose to opt for placing cameras behind tinted windows in the first place – so as not to make them more obvious and, thus, keep them from impacting your home décor as much as possible. The problem here is really the worst of both worlds.

From a legal standpoint, security cameras placed behind tinted windows may be considered to be too obscure to clearly signal to others that they are being surveilled. From a décor standpoint, placing cameras behind tinted windows can be too obvious, however, making it appear as though you’re trying to covertly surveil others, which can make your home appear shady.

Besides, placing cameras outside doesn’t have to be an aesthetic nightmare. As stated above, your cameras can be placed in such a way as to reduce the amount of direct sunlight and thus glare that they have to deal with. The same holds true for cameras in relation to your exterior décor – you can place them in such a way as to make the cameras clearly visible enough to meet legal standards, while still minimizing them enough so as not to have them stick out like a sore thumb.

So where does that leave us?

All in all, while it may be technically possible for your security cameras to record through windows, it generally isn’t a good idea in terms of the legality, functionality, or aesthetics at play in the situation.

You’re far better off either placing your cameras inside while being mindful of consent and intent laws, or placing them outside and avoiding legal as well as logistic headaches.

Recent Content