Legislature Approves Bill to Outlaw Secret Videotaping

June 12, 2003

The State Assembly today gave final legislative approval to a measure (A.8926/S.3060-B) outlawing video voyeurism. Assemblyman Robin Schimminger who sponsored the bill, called the initiative “a crucial measure to help protect individuals from infringement on their privacy.”

Schimminger said that he first introduced legislation outlawing video voyeurism in response to a 1999 case in his district, which involved a young Town of Tonawanda mother who discovered a video camera in an air vent in a bathroom in her apartment. Although the police were able to trace the wires back to the landlord, no charges were brought because the New York statute on 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 violation of the privacy individuals have every right to expect.” Similar occurrences have also been recorded elsewhere in the state.

Though the Assembly passed Schimminger’s original bill unanimously in June of 2000, the Senate and the Assembly have never passed the same version. Consequently, no specific statute currently exists to protect individuals from being observed in what should be their private residences. The existing law on unlawful video surveillance applies only to public places such as fitting rooms, locker rooms and the like.

Once enacted, the new law will make the crime of unlawful video surveillance without consent a class E felony. A person will be guilty of this crime if he or she for their own or another’s amusement, entertainment, sexual arousal or gratification, or profit, intentionally uses or installs or permits the utilization or installation of a video surveillance device to surreptitiously generate an image of a person without such person’s consent or knowledge in situations where that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The bill also outlaws disseminating an unlawful video surveillance recording. Individuals who intentionally sell, disseminate, distribute or transfer a recording they unlawfully created to another person, and individuals who, knowing that the video surveillance recording was created without the victim’s consent, sell or publish such a recording will be committing a class E felony. “In addition to the violation that an individual sustains when the original recording is made, when a video is distributed or sold to others, the individual is then violated over and over again,” Schimminger said. “The defilement is continual and can haunt an individual for life.”

“These days technology changes very quickly, and unfortunately, no sooner is a new technology invented than someone conceives of a way to misuse it. 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. Hopefully, in the future, we will be quicker to respond. I found the need for this change in the law to be self-evident from the time police investigating the incident in my district first brought the lack of such a statute to my attention. Three years later, we finally have agreement on a law that will protect our citizens from this profound invasion of their privacy,” Schimminger concluded. He credited a highly publicized case of video voyeurism that occurred in 2001 on Long Island with helping to convince the Governor and other legislators of the importance of enacting a video voyeurism law.

The Governor has indicated he will sign the measure the Legislature approved today into law.