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Is Spying On People With Hidden Spy Cameras And Other Surveillance Gadgets Illegal?

Aug 17, 2007
Here are the facts: When it comes to spying on people with hidden spy cameras and other surveillance equipment, it does require the consent of one party.

On top of it all, violation of this is considered a felony.

Cellular and cordless telephone communications are protected under state law.
A person is guilty of eavesdropping when he unlawfully engages in the following activities.

Wiretapping, which is defined as the intentional overhearing or recording of a telephonic or telegraphic communication, by a person other than the sender or receiver, without the consent of either the sender or receiver, by means of any instrument, device or equipment?

One New York court ruled that a mother who listened to her son's telephone conversation through an extension phone violated this provision of the statute because the son explicitly instructed his mother to stay off the extension phone during the conversation and there was no proof that the other conversation participants had consented to her listening. The fact that it was her phone, in her apartment, was irrelevant.

"Mechanical overhearing of a conversation," meaning the intentional overhearing or recording of a conversation by a person not present, without the consent of at least one party to the conversation, by means of any instrument, device or equipment.
In one case, the court ruled that the tape recording of conversations heard through a hole in the floor of an apartment did not violate this provision of the statute because the person doing the recording was "present" during the conversations and the conversations were "freely overheard."

"Intercepting or accessing of an electronic communication," meaning the intentional acquiring, receiving, collecting, overhearing or recording of an electronic communication, without the consent of the sender or intended receiver, by means of any instrument, device or equipment. It is not a violation if the method of transmission is configured so that the communication is readily accessible to the general public.
State courts have ruled that both cellular and cordless telephone communications are protected under the state statute.

Eavesdropping using various surveillance devices is a class E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 or the amount of the defendant's monetary gain from the violation.

Possession of an eavesdropping surveillance device with intent to use it or allow it to be used in violation of the statute is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.

Also illegal (as a class B misdemeanor) is the unauthorized acquisition of information from a telephone company relating to its wires, cables, terminals, and so forth or concerning records of communications passing over its lines. A class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to three months in prison and a fine of up to $500.

Regarding the use of police scanners, it is illegal for a person who is not a police officer or peace officer to equip a motor vehicle with a radio receiving set capable of receiving signals on the frequencies allocated for police use or to use a vehicle so equipped. Licensed amateur radio operators are exempt. Violation is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months imprisonment or both.

The New York statute does not specifically provide for civil damages for eavesdropping. It is not clear whether New York courts would allow a civil suit for a violation of the statute, given the state's traditional reluctance to recognize civil causes of action for invasion of privacy beyond narrow parameters.

So go ahead and buy those mini and hidden spy camera devices and don't worry about if they are legal or not. I use one every day to make sure my house is safe and no intruders approach and steal or vandalize.
About the Author
Glenn Freiboth is a business consultant and author for security and surveillance trends and lives in Illinois.
Hidden Spy Camera products can be found at http://www.SpyGearCo.com
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