Assembly Approves Bill to Outlaw Video Voyeurism

March 17, 2003

The State Assembly today unanimously approved a measure (A.4479-A) which would crack down on video voyeurism by outlawing both surreptitious videotaping and the dissemination of any resulting images.

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, who authored the bill, stated that “Though a number of initiatives have been introduced in both houses to combat these despicable acts, it is vital that the law enacted be intelligent, precise and enforceable. This legislation accomplishes these goals.”

Schimminger first introduced legislation banning video voyeurism in 1999 in response to a case in his district which involved Tracy, a Town of Tonawanda woman, and her two children who discovered a video camera in an air vent in a bathroom in their apartment. Although the police were able to trace the wires back to the landlord, no charges were brought because the New York statute on such unauthorized surveillance covers only audio recordings. “We have to give our law enforcement agencies the tools they need to get tough on these electronic Peeping Toms,” said Schimminger. “Being secretly watched is a terrifying experience that leaves victims feeling humiliated, frightened and insecure. It is an outrageous invasion of the privacy individuals have every right to expect.” Similar occurrences have also been recorded elsewhere in the state.

Existing provisions in the General Business Law only criminalize viewing or recording in a fitting room, restroom, bathroom, toilet, washroom, shower, or any other room assigned to guests or patrons in a motel, hotel or inn. Unlawful surveillance in other circumstances and knowing dissemination of photographs and tapes, which also can be devastating to victims, are not addressed by the current law.

The Assemblyman explained that his measure provides the legal framework for prosecuting four new crimes: unlawful surveillance in the first and second degree for secretly videotaping another individual where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, and dissemination of an unlawful surveillance image in the first and second degree for the distribution of resulting videotapes or other images. It also requires the destruction of any such images when criminal proceedings have concluded.

“In addition to the violation that an individual sustains when the original recording is made, when a video or other recording is distributed or sold to others, the individual is then violated over and over again,” Schimminger said.

“Activities that this bill proscribes were unimaginable a generation ago. Today with a simple click of a mouse someone’s private and intimate moments can be viewed and distributed all over the world. Our laws must change to reflect the changes in the crimes that are committed, particularly in reference to new technologies that make it easier to perpetrate crimes. I call on the State Senate to pass this measure and put a tough new law against video voyeurism on the books,” Schimminger concluded.

Though both the Senate and the Assembly have passed legislation outlawing video voyeurism in the past, they have not passed the same bill as is required to enact a new law.