Law Confusing On Subject Of Video Surveillance

supreme-courWhat is legal and not legal when it comes to surveillance? This is a question that is ill-defined in modern society, and its elements change every day as our technology becomes more and more advanced and our social norms adjust along with it. There is still a difference between a persons private and public life. But where is the line drawn?

As surveillance cameras have become more common with both private citizens and for the use of communities, the Supreme Court has taken the position that what a person exposes to the public is not constitutionally protected and that in public, visual forms of surveillance have almost complete carte blanche in recording people. Surveillance cameras have taken over our lives to the point that they’ve made the distinctions of public and private life somewhat nonexistent.

To make this idea explicit, there is no federal law that governs video surveillance by private citizens or organizations such as community safety coalitions and almost no federal law that covers police video surveillance.

“The courts have claimed that using a video and audio recorder by a citizen is protected by the First Amendment,” says Len Brown, a West Point graduate and an attorney with the Lancaster, PA law firm of Clymer & Musser.

State laws do not regulate videotaping. According to Clifford Fishman, a professor at Catholic University and a former New York district attorney, “The Justice Department likes the law the way it is, because it allows visual surveillance of public conduct.”

The law says that private citizens using video cameras must follow the same guidelines governing surveillance programs operated by municipalities. According to Fisherman, however, there are still many questions about the legality of what individuals personally film. While it may not be illegal if an individual their own or others property or individuals going about their daily business, a line can easily be crossed between which another person can see this surveillance and filming as a form of illegal harassment.

Says Brown, “There’s really nothing anyone can do, until someone finds out [the camera operators] are abusing the cameras.”

According to Brown, with no clear regulation and oversight of video surveillance, the potential for voyeurism and invasion of privacy becomes much larger. Although municipalities with surveillance programs are able to regulate their recordings, breaches are always a possibility.

Fishman suggests putting cameras only in areas where crime is prevalent, instead of simply saturating a city, in hopes of catching criminal activity.

Surveillance programs are growing number across the country. Camera technology is improving, and people are more likely to use camera surveillance to protect their home. As a society, we need to make decisions about how we will survey each other in public. It will go on to some extent. We just have to decide how far we actually want to go.

“Once the debate gets captured by the extremes on both sides, people in the middle just tune out, says Fishman.”

(Via Lanaster Online)

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