A few states have taken a bold and controversial approach to combating elder abuse: handing out cameras to families who have private caregivers. Elder abusers are rarely caught and prosecuted. Many victims are unable to report the crime, let alone provide proof. Therefore, capturing evidence of abuse is an important public policy goal. In New Jersey and Wisconsin, state agencies have taken an aggressive approach by providing cameras to families for free so that they can clandestinely record the caregivers in their homes.
Critics argue that this is a dangerous step toward government surveillance in private spaces and threatens civil rights. However, New Jersey law allows individuals to record another individual without their knowledge. The state does require camera borrowers to agree not to make audio recordings in order to avoid violating federal wiretap laws, and prohibits cameras in bathrooms or the caregiver's bedroom. Of course, it is not just the caretaker's rights that are implicated but also the senior who usually is not capable of consenting. This thorny issue is being debated nationally as state agencies and advocates try to find the right balance between protecting vulnerable adults and invading privacy.