In this day and age, it seems as though every house is equipped with some form of video surveillance. ADT, Ring, and Arlo are among the many companies whose sales are on the rise for the purpose of home security and a homeowner’s peace of mind. However, some people abuse this technology with the purpose of spying on their neighbors. The person on the receiving end of this invasion of privacy often feels uncomfortable and unsafe, but might not know what to do. Should you find yourself in this position, what rights do you have and how can the law work for you?
In 2017, the New York legislature passed Section 52-a of its Civil Rights Law. This right of privacy law is appropriately titled “private right of action for unwarranted video imaging of residential premises.” This statute attempts to serve to protect New York State residents from intrusions onto their property, including the backyard, by means of a video imaging device. Plainly stated, its purpose is to protect us from peeping Toms, spying with video surveillance or doing reconnaissance on your neighbors through Ring, for example. It is against the law for your neighbor to install video cameras with the purpose to spy on you. Any intent to harass, annoy, threaten, or intimidate you with this technology is unlawful and unacceptable.
While this statute seems to address a very real issue, unfortunately the enforcement of the statute has its limits. By way of example, if you have a surveillance enthusiast that lives next to you and he or she has numerous cameras installed on his or her property with the intent to surveil his or her own property but those cameras do capture footage of portions of a neighbor’s property, the neighbor who feels violated may have a difficult time in Court successfully demonstrating that Section 52-a of the Civil Rights Law should result in a verdict against the neighbor utilizing the surveillance cameras.
How can that be? Well, the real issue to be tried is the intent of the individual who installed and utilizes those cameras. As long as the neighbor that installed the cameras can demonstrate that the purpose is to surveil his or her own property (and not to spy on the neighbor or to be a peeping Tom), arguably the statute does not apply due to a lack of intent to utilize the cameras to harass, annoy, threaten, intimidate, or spy on the neighbor next door. Likely, the neighbor who feels violated by the cameras will need to have offered ample evidence demonstrating the malicious intent of the alleged wrongdoer, which may be difficult.
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