A New York state of spying

We New Yorkers like to think of our state as rather progressive and in many ways it is. However, when it comes to surveillance, especially electronic surveillance, the Empire State is stuck in the era of rotary-dial phones and black-and-white photography. While it is illegal to intercept a phone call or other conversation between two parties not including yourself, you can record communications between yourself and another person without that person’s knowledge or permission. The matter of video surveillance is even more egregious. Your neighbor, or anyone else for that matter, can position overt or hidden cameras to image your property, even the inside of your house, so long as they do not look into areas where you have “an expectation of privacy”—rather narrowly defined as your bathroom or bedroom. In other words, think twice about going around your living room naked because someone could—entirely legally—be recording you doing so. And, short of outright blackmail, there are few restrictions on what they can do with that recording. Ok, so perhaps not many people go to the trouble and expense of targeting someone for surveillance. But what about your paranoid neighbor whose house and yard bristle with infrared cameras? What if those cameras just happen to image your property? Too bad. There is no law in New York State that says that such systems must be installed to view only the owner’s property. In fact, your neighbor can sit in his yard and look into your windows with binoculars and be entirely within the law.  

If, like me, you think that this is outrageous, I urge you to write to your State Senator and Assembly Representative. Demand that they introduce legislation to protect the privacy of New Yorkers from deliberate and incidental invasion by the ubiquitous panoply of electronic surveillance devices. If you do not know who your representatives are, contact me at ljcotnoir@stny.rr.com and I will provide you with that information. Stopping illegal surveillance by the government is not enough; we need laws protecting us from freelance spying as well.

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