The Legal and Ethical Issues That Every Parent Needs to Know About Nanny Cams

Our friends at Fatherly make a case for full disclosure when it comes to the infamous nanny cam.

StockSnap | Omar Prestwich

America is anxious about knowing what's going down in their houses during the day. That's caused internet-connected cameras to boom. The extraordinary technology has allowed to people to see that, yes, the dog is still licking his balls on the couch. And, yep, that plant is still growing at imperceptible rates. Also, furniture just kind of looks sad all alone like that, you know? Like it's somehow incomplete without you . . . And, oh wow, did you see that piece of dust float by?

Happily for you, the live stream of empty rooms is going to get a lot more interesting when you install your brand new nanny cam. That is, if you're okay with the ethical and legal ramifications of sneakily watching the person watching your kid. What are those? Glad you asked.

But First: Nanny Cam Defined

A nanny cam is a hidden camera. You basically use them to spy on the individual watching your kid, whether they're a nanny or otherwise. They come in a startling array of disguises that range from teddy bears to smoke detectors. Presumably that last one is only viable for hot nannies. Boom. Free dad joke. You're welcome.

Why You'd Want One

You should build any good working relationship on trust. That said you may want to use a camera to collect certain data. Maybe you want to see how much time your kid's caregiver spends playing with them. Maybe you want to see how long they spend texting or checking Facebook. Or you could be concerned about how often your kid gets outside, as opposed to staring at the back of a cell phone.

Collecting this information helps you start a conversation with your nanny about what you'd like to see happen with your kid's care. You can also expect the elimination of any self reporting bias they might have (if that kind of thing freaks you out).

The Legal Ramifications

Here's how it breaks down: You can legally record anyone in your house without their consent using a video device. If you're trying to figure out if your nanny is dressing your baby in strange vegetable costumes to make social hay on Snapchat, you'll want to set these cameras up in obvious places like the playroom and the living room.

The catch is that you cannot record in rooms that would otherwise be private. These would be rooms like your nanny's personal quarters if you have a live-in (get a load of Mr. Rockefeller), or private spaces like bathrooms. So yeah. Just don't be a ridiculous pervert, basically.

The catch comes if you also want to record sound. A handful of states have laws on the books that make capturing sound illegal. So basically figure out your state's laws, get really good at reading lips, or just tell your nanny you're recording sound of them doing whatever they do when she watch your kid. But there might be some blowback.

Ethical Ramifications

Recording someone without their knowledge or consent is just kind of icky. So you might want to come out with it. You can let your nanny know they may be recorded without actually telling them when or how.

Here are some ways to make this less awkward:

  • Decide Who Can See It: Talk with your nanny or caregiver about who will be able to review they footage and how any recordings will be destroyed. They probably don't want to be a viral sensation, unless they're a millennial, in which case just talk about how all of this could help their personal brand
  • Phase It Out: If you're using your nanny cam as a way to get comfy with the ways of a new caregiver, set a date to review its use and phase it out.
  • Review And Delete: Make it a regular thing that you watch any concerning footage together and delete it after review together. That way everything is out in the open and trust is built that you're getting rid of it and putting it all in the past.

In the end, whatever you do with those home cameras, don't be weird about it. The things that happen while you're not around are probably as benign as empty furniture and dust specks. Oh, look! There goes another one.