UK British Spy Law FAQ’s

We receive many questions regarding the legal use of spy equipment before purchase and general advice regarding privacy and legal rights for the private sector. It is good news to hear the majority of our customers are taking responsibility for understanding the law and its many positive uses for deploying security equipment. Over the years, we have received excellent feedback on how Spy Cameras, Audio Surveillance, GPS Car Trackers and Listening Devices have been put to good use without breaking the law.

While we firmly believe the use of spy equipment has proved beneficial to our many customers and has provided satisfactory results to bring a conclusion to sometimes sensitive situations. There is no doubt surveillance is a credible deterrent against crime for both individuals and businesses, providing its use is for legitimate and purposeful means; however, it is always advised to understand the laws surrounding the use of surveillance products and, if in any doubt seek professional consultation by legal representation.

Previously, we had written an article on UK Surveillance Law, and this Blog post expands further. UK law vastly differs in operating terms between the Police, the British Intelligence Agencies and small business commercial e-commerce platforms such as Online Spy Shop. Any government body must comply with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), whereas an e-commerce seller is more lenient. For peace of mind, all products on our website are perfectly legal to own and use and will yield good results - providing you observe the rules of British law.

As a general rule of thumb, spy equipment can be purchased for legitimate security reasons to monitor the safety of your property, whether that is your home, workplace, caravan, workshop, holiday home etc, and for your well-being and security. You should not use spy equipment to infringe on another person's property and privacy.

Spy Cameras

Q. Our house has been broken into several times through the rear patio doors over the last few months. Can we fit an Outdoor Spy Camera to overlook our back garden?

A. The camera must look directly onto your garden side and not infringe on your neighbour's side of the property. Ideally, you should inform the neighbours of your intention to install a camera and assure them it is only being fitted as a security measure due to previous break-ins. Assure the neighbours that audio is not being recorded and their conversations will not be stored.

It should be noted that you are responsible for securely holding video footage and picture images and erasing footage after a reasonable amount of time, especially if the camera accidentally captured a neighbour. You cannot upload and share video footage or picture snapshots to social media channels or release them to the media in an attempt to identify culprit/s.

Q. We are aware of ongoing theft within the locker room of our member's club. Substantial money is missing, and our members are losing confidence in our ability to resolve the situation.  We do not want our good reputation tarnished or to lose custom. Can we install a Secret Indoor Camera to identify whoever the culprit is?

A. Unless in exceptional circumstances given by the Police in which the club has been approved to use a hidden spy camera in private areas, the short answer is no. Locker rooms, including bathrooms and communal areas, are generally situated where many people will be captured on camera getting changed etc. Under no circumstances should the club consider using any covert (discreet) or overt (in plain sight) camera in areas of intimate privacy.

Q. My local store has installed CCTV cameras, making me uncomfortable. Is this legal, and are the cameras allowed to record audio?

A. A physical store open to the general public can install an overt (visible) camera system for the security and safety of the owners, employees, and customers.  CCTV can be used as a deterrent against crime and to provide the Police with video evidence of theft or threats, abuse and anti-social behaviour towards staff. Clear signage must be shown throughout the store informing you that CCTV is in use; however, if the camera system has integrated audio, it must not be capable of recording conversations between other public members.

If the store installs a covert (hidden) camera, the camera must only be used for legitimate security purposes that it is intended and not for general store surveillance. The store must register CCTV camera/s with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), have a DPA number, and observe company procedures on their use and how footage is stored and used. It must only be kept for as long as reasonably needed. The store should not release video footage or pictures to the media or an online social platform that shows a person/s face to identify them.

Q. I am sure something untoward happens at home while I am not there. My pet dog has become withdrawn, and our youngest child has developed bruises that my partner or I can not explain. My partner is at home most of the day while I am at work. Can I place a Motion-Activated Spy Camera in the house to determine what is happening?

A. Providing that you are the house owner or renting a property that is your name, you have a legitimate reason to understand the truth. You must consider your partner's privacy and not deploy a camera in private areas such as the bathroom or any other room within the house where you know that your partner has some level of intimacy.

Q. I am the landlord of a property and have suspicions the house I am leasing is being used anti-socially and is not being looked after. Can I enter the property when they are not there and put a camera inside to gain evidence?

A. Even though you are the landlord and own the house, your rights do not extend to entering the property without prior arrangement or consent from the current tenants while the lease is still within its term. This also applies if your tenancy agreement states that the landlord can enter the property anytime without agreement. Even though it may be written in the signed contract, it will not be valid.

Based on the above, you should not consider entering the property as this would be considered to disturb the tenant's rights. You should not install any camera as this would be considered an infringement and breaking privacy laws.

Audio Recorders and Listening Devices

Q. We receive daily verbal abuse from one of our neighbours, which has escalated over the smallest things. I cannot leave my house without being challenged and called upsetting names. Can I record their threats towards me?

A. You can use a recorder to gather audio evidence by standing on your side of the fencing, a public street or path or a public dwelling. You should not trespass on the neighbour's property nor place spy gadgets within their home or vehicle where you do not have permitted access to try and obtain audio evidence.

Q. I work with a nasty co-worker who makes inappropriate and unacceptable comments about me when nobody else is around. I feel intimidated and bullied, but I do not want to raise the issue with management if nobody believes me. Can I use Voice Recorders to gather audio evidence and prove my side of events?

A. You have a right to protect yourself from being bullied and intimidated in the workplace. You should address your concerns to the attention of your boss or higher management, who must act on the information you provide them, regardless of having evidence. However, suppose you felt producing audio evidence between yourself and said person would be more beneficial. In that case, it is legal to do so while considering the privacy of other persons around you. You must not record other people's general conversations which do not relate to your situation.

Q. I am due to meet my line manager regarding an employment tribunal. In previous meetings between myself and my manager, their story has changed several times. I want to record the next meeting to support evidence and limit my good reputation from being discredited and wrongfully leading to a potential dismissal. Is this allowed?

A. You do not need to inform your line manager that your conversations are being recorded, provided you capture events for legitimate purposes to support your case. However, you cannot leave a recorder behind in the room after the meeting has finished capturing further conversations with your line manager when you are not there. Remember that the meeting room may be occupied by other persons unrelated to your case and would infringe on their private conversations.

Q. I am suffering from domestic abuse at home. Although my partner never hits me, the mental torture begins when he gets home. I found the courage to tell my closest friend, but they said to try and record the abuse with a voice recorder. Is that the correct advice?

A. If the house is owned by yourself or part-owed by yourself with a partner, you may covertly use and leave the recorder behind to continue gathering evidence. This also applies to a vehicle you own or part-own with a partner. If you do not own the house but are invited to stay, you can record audio evidence to support your personal safety. Still, you cannot leave the recording device behind when you leave because the property does not belong to you.

Q. I’d like to listen to live audio of my young child’s bedroom when I go out in the evening and employ the services of a new babysitter. Can I use a listening device?

A. Installing a GSM Listening Device in your home or property is a great way to achieve peace of mind. Also, receive an SMS notification to your smartphone should your baby begin crying or becomes upset, and you need to know that everything is OK. You do not need to inform the babysitter of your intentions; however, you must not use the device to purposely listen to private conversations of the babysitter and use it only for the purposes that you purchased.

Q. My friend gave me a little FM transmitter, meaning I can hear the room environment through a regular FM radio acting as the receiver. It’s just for a bit of fun, but is it legal?

A. FM, VHF and UHF transmitters and receivers, including military and air-band frequencies used as listening devices, are illegal. To operate this type of equipment, you must obtain a license. Likewise, selling any crystal-controlled audio device and its operational use within the EU without granted authorisation will carry hefty fines.

Vehicle and People Trackers

Q. I need to track the whereabouts of my partner’s vehicle because I believe they are cheating on me. Is this legal?

A. You must not deploy a GPS Car Tracker if you do not own a car. Your actions would be construed as collecting personal data of a person's whereabouts without their knowledge, breaking privacy laws, and breaching human rights. However, if the vehicle belongs to you and a partner is using the car, you can fit a tracking device without informing the persons using the car. Likewise, if you part-own the vehicle with a partner, you can fit a tracker; ideally, you should inform the other part-owner that a tracker has been fitted.

Q. I believe a tracking device has been unlawfully fitted to my car. Can I purchase a bug detector to locate the device, and are they legal to use?

A. Before spending your hard-earned cash, it is better to physically search the inside and outside of the vehicle, checking for anything which looks out of the ordinary. The deployment of a tracker will also need fast access to remove it; therefore, the device is likely to be magnetised to a flat metal surface underneath and somewhere along the edges or rear bumper area. Also, check behind the license plate by gently pulling the plate outwards towards you - a tracker cannot be magnetised in this area and will likely fall out on the floor. Following a physical search, a local garage should help by putting your car on a ramp to get a proper look underneath. If still no joy, investing in a mid-range bug detector will help.

We have written an article on the Rise of the Bug Detector, which provides informative insight for the layman on how these devices work and how simple they are to operate. From a legal perspective, bug detectors do not transmit and are designed only to identify transmitting frequencies; therefore, their ownership and use are within the law.

If you find a tracking device or any other kind of 'bug' - do not remove it - you could be liable for removing property that does not belong to you. Take a picture, drive your car to the local Police and let them handle the situation.

Q. I am a business owner and would like to track our car feet to monitor business usage during work hours. Can I fit a tracker?

A. Commercial vehicles used for business purposes are the responsibility of the company must inform the driver that a tracking system has or will be fitted and explain how to switch off tracking capabilities whenever the vehicle is used privately. You cannot fit a tracker while the car is being used by an employee for private means or fit a tracker to your vehicle. At the same time, it is kept on an employee's property or private land, for example, a driveway or garage, without their consent. Trackers must only be fitted with a right of access, for example, on a public street, path or public space.

Q. I do not own the vehicle I wish to track, but I do have a legitimate reason for needing to monitor the whereabouts of the vehicle. Can I do this?

A. Providing your reason/s are legal and proportional to the extent required to gather the vehicle's whereabouts and would satisfy a Police inquiry under exceptional circumstances. You must not gain access inside the car unless you have lawful access. You cannot break into the vehicle, nor can you hard-wire a tracker physically to the car.

Q. My dad, who lives alone in his 80s and sometimes leaves his house and then becomes confused about his whereabouts. Can I drop a People Tracker in his coat pocket to ensure his safety and know his whereabouts when he becomes lost?

A. People Trackers will give peace of mind to family members and are very helpful for use by the vulnerable, including lone workers and VIPs, for enhancing their safety and security. People trackers tend to be much smaller, lighter and more convenient to carry than vehicle trackers. Privacy laws apply, so it's always advised to ask for permission from your dad and explain why you want to use a people tracker. Consider the potential of breaking these laws depending on the extent of your use.

Q. I am a new Private Investigator. A company has tasked me to track a suspected employee using their company car for illegal use outside working hours. Can I put a tracking device on the car?

A. As a Private Investigator, you should be familiar with and must comply with RIPA Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act laws. You should also be registered with the ICO Information Commissioners Office. You can use a tracking device to investigate fraud or criminal activity of a company employee, providing it is in proportion to the investigation and in the best interests of protecting the company. However, you cannot deploy a people tracker or any tracking device on a person or assets in a manner deemed intrusive and would break their privacy and human rights, which could be construed as harassment.