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Is It Illegal To Record Someone On Video Without Them Knowing It In Maryland?

The answer is yes. It can be. It depends on where, and under what circumstances, that recording occurs. Generally, what one exposes to the public is fair game. The concept of privacy is a core and a cherished value, protected by the constitution. There is no expectation of privacy if the the activity occurs in public. There is wrongdoing in visually recording what another intentionally exposes to the public. Activity intended to be kept private, however, is treated differently. Maryland law does punish  the viewing of another in a dressing room or restroom at a retail store, by direct sight, or by using a camera, mirrors, or other surveillance device. You can go to jail for a 30 days, and be subject to a $1000 fine.

     -Source: Criminal Law Section 3-901.

The more serious crime is surveillance with prurient intent.

There are some additional requirements to sustain this aggravated charge. One must act with a wrongful intent.  For the more serious offense, it must be shown the act of surveillance was committed with a “prurient” intent. Prurient is generally understood to mean an excessive interest or preoccupation with sex. So, the law does not punish casual, momentary or unintentional viewings. There are also exceptions for legitimate activity such as law enforcement or artistic pursuits.

This more serious crime prohibits the surveillance by direct sight, or by using a camera, mirrors, or other surveillance device, of a person in a private place.

The law defines private place as “a room in which a person can reasonably be expected to fully or partially disrobe and has a reasonable expectation of privacy” in an otherwise public area [e.g. office buildings, banks, schools, sports arenas, etc.] This law also prohibits the visual surveillance of  the "private areas" of a person, by camera, public or private  place, if the person would expect that their private areas would not be otherwise visible. “Private area of an individual” means the naked or undergarment–clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or female breast of an individual." Obviously, if the person consents to the surveillance, there is no crime under either section. There are also important exceptions for legitimate activity. For professionals, or others, acting without the required 'prurient' motivation, there is no criminal liability. Those include:

  • Those conducting "filming by or for the print or broadcast media"

  • Those conducting "visual surveillance of an individual to protect property or public safety or prevent crime"

  • Licenses security guards and private detectives. 

     -Source" Criminal Law Section 3-902.

A victim of such a crime is entitled to recover "actual" damages plus attorney's fees and costs of bringing the suit. Surprisingly to some, this section does not authorize an award of punitive damages. 

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   -This Article was updated by Eric Kirk on 8/25/20.