Senators introduce surveillance legislation

Looking to provide protection against surreptitious surveillance in private home, U.S. senators Arlen Specter (D-Penn.), along co-sponsors Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) introduced a bill this week that would amend the Wiretap Act to include silent video images.

The bill was brought about on the heels of a Pennsylvania lawsuit in which a student claims the school district spied on him by activating webcams on school-issued laptops. The school district admits to activating the webcams, but say the only did so in an effort to locate lost or stolen computers.

According to a statement issued by Specter’s office, the proposed legislation dubbed "The Surreptitious Video Surveillance Act of 2010," would essentially do two things:

- Amend the Wiretap Act to treat video surveillance the same as the interception of other electronic communications.
- Define video surveillance as the intentional recording of visual images of an individual in an area of a residence that is not readily observable from a public location and in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The bill does not regulate situations in which an individual in a residence consents to surveillance. It also does not regulate cameras in the workplace, undercover investigations using confidential informants, and residential security systems that use CCTV cameras.

"Many Americans would be surprised to learn that there is no federal statute to protect them from being secretly videotaped in their homes," Feingold said in the statement. "This bill permits the government to conduct necessary surveillance while protecting the privacy rights of innocent Americans."