Mail theft and package theft have increased over the years due to the rise of online shopping. Incidences of porch piracy and high-value mail theft have become widespread with little to no legislative solutions. What’s even more frustrating is that cases of mail theft are largely underreported. This is because online retailers often provide refunds when items are stolen with no questions asked. Some people want to be proactive and take matters in their own hands but they’re wondering if they can put a security camera in the mailbox.
No. You cannot put a security camera in your mailbox if the mailbox is the property of United States Postal Service (USPS). You must be aware of postal service laws so you don’t end up violating them. While it is a great idea to monitor activities near your mailbox, it could also possibly violate a person’s expectations of privacy.
Is It Legal to Put a Security Camera in a Mailbox?
The problem here is that the law is quite vague when it comes to putting a surveillance camera in the residential mailbox owned by the homeowner.
What’s clear though is that if the mailbox is the property of USPS, tampering with it is clearly a violation of postal service laws. This means that you can get fined for $250,000 or imprisoned for up to 3 years. You don’t want to be in that position.
Putting a security camera in a postal service mailbox may constitute tampering or vandalism because you’re essentially modifying the mailbox that is owned by USPS.
But more than that, the law states that all parts of the mailbox are the domain of USPS and only postage-paid mail should be in the mailbox. Altering the mailbox so that a security camera could fit inside is likely to get you in trouble with the postal service.
By having control over the mailbox, the postal service gains the legal authority to investigate crimes related to the use of mail.
Who Owns Your Mailbox?
Who actually owns the residential mailbox is a point of contention because an up-to-code mailbox is interpreted as being a Federal property once installed and ready for use. This is highly controversial and many homeowners don’t subscribe to this belief.
What homeowners believe is that a privately purchased and installed residential mailbox is the property of whoever purchased it. What the Federal laws and statutes can do are to regulate the use of the mailbox for the safety and protection of people from mail theft.
But knowing what you know now about fines and penalties, it would be smart to just not mess with the mailbox, whether it’s owned by the postal service or not.
How to Safely Monitor Your Mailbox
If you suspect that someone is stealing your mail or your packages, you can install a security camera outside where it is pointed towards your residential mailbox and only capturing activities happening from your own property and the public areas like driveways and sidewalks.
The security camera to monitor the mailbox should not be pointed directly at your neighbor’s house or anywhere where other people’s privacy can be breached unintentionally.
Keep in mind that there are laws that disallow the use of video and audio recording in locations where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. This means that even if it is considered a public space, there can still be a high expectation of personal privacy.
For residential properties, it means pointing a camera towards your neighbor’s bedroom or capturing conversations happening near your mailbox. It’s possible to record conversations inadvertently and capturing information of sensitive nature.
There are many instances where installing a security camera near a mailbox can possibly violate a person’s expectation of privacy and put you in a situation where you become legally liable for it even if you have no intention of violating privacy rights.
Most security cameras have a built-in audio recording feature so it will capture sounds which can include private conversations of people walking near your property or your mailbox. This can be a serious problem if you live in a state that requires two-party consent to record conversations.
So with all that said, here’s how you install a security camera for your mailbox and avoid breaking postal service laws and federal laws:
- Do not insert a security camera in a postal service mailbox (i.e., mailbox owned by USPS)
- Install a security camera adjacent to the mailbox or a spot where it has a full view of the mailbox and the surrounding area.
- Position the security camera towards a public space and away from the neighbor’s private property or anywhere where there is a reasonable expectation of personal privacy (e.g. bedroom).
- If you live in one of the eleven states that require two-party consent for lawful audio recordings, disable the audio recording of your security camera to avoid legal liabilities in the future.
- Make the security camera visible and put up a security surveillance warning sign to let the public know that they are being recorded.
- If you do not own the house you reside in, talk to your landlord and request for a visible security camera with proper warning signs.
Best Security Camera Features for Mailbox Surveillance
Security cameras for mailbox surveillance require certain features for effective monitoring. Here are the 5 things to look for in a mailbox security camera.
- Wide Coverage
Unlike video doorbell cameras that have limited coverage, mailbox security cameras must have a wide area coverage. This is because you want to get the full view of the front of the house and see all angles where thieves may be coming from. The Arlo Pro 3 and Arlo Ultra are recommended for the 160- and 180-degree field of view, respectively.
2. High Resolution
The resolution level matters when you want to make out details of the face of people who go near your mailbox. High Definition 4MP resolution is optimal but you can go higher with 4K resolution if the budget permits. The TP-Link Kasa Cam Outdoor is the affordable HD choice for outdoor monitoring.
- Weatherproofing and High Durability
Since the security camera will be installed outdoor, it must be durable enough to withstand the harsh elements. It should have an IP rating of at least IP65, which is protected against dust and water from a nozzle. A security camera with IP66 is protected from strong jets of water.
Reolink Argus 2, which has an IP66 rating, is recommended for rugged outdoor security monitoring, perfect for keeping an eye on your mailbox even during heavy rains.
- Clear Infrared Night Vision
Burglary and theft often happen at nighttime when criminals use the darkness to stealthily perform their crimes. Only a mailbox security camera with clear night vision can capture activities in low-light or no-light conditions. Most outdoor security cameras come with built-in night vision, but if you want an inexpensive HD outdoor camera with reliable night vision, you can’t go wrong with EZViz Outdoor Cam.
- Compact Form Factor
The form factor of a security camera is an often overlooked feature, but the body of the camera will determine where the camera is best suited for. Spy cameras or covert cameras are usually small and can be installed pretty much anywhere without attracting attention. Security cameras for mailbox can be discreet compact cameras that can be installed in tighter spaces. There are limited options outdoors so the camera must be small but sturdy. A bullet or box camera that can blend with the outdoor surroundings is appropriate for mailbox surveillance.