Wow, that was fast: little more than two weeks after EFF testified to a Senate subcommittee that federal electronic privacy law needs to be updated to protect against secret video surveillance just like it regulates electronic eavesdropping, Senator Arlen Specter has responded by introducing a bill to do just that.
Specter, chairman of the subcommittee that held the hearing in response to the scandal over a Pennsylvania school district's alleged use of webcams on school-issued laptops to spy on students at home, today introduced the Surreptitious Video Surveillance Act of 2010. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Feingold and Kaufman, would update the federal wiretapping statute to create serious criminal and civil penalties for secret, nonconsensual video surveillance inside any temporary or permanent residence, be it your house, your apartment, or your hotel room.
In last month's hearing, EFF pushed for such an update to the law, reminding the Senate of what Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the very first appellate court decision to recognize the video surveillance gap in the electronic privacy law:
Of course it is anomalous to have detailed statutory regulation of bugging and wiretapping but not of television surveillance, in Title III…and we would think it a very good thing if Congress responded to the issues discussed in this opinion by amending Title III to bring television surveillance within its scope.
Finally, over 25 years since that call to action, these Senators are stepping up to the plate to protect your video privacy, which is in special need of protection now that we live within a technological landscape practically littered with Internet-connected cameras that might be taken over and abused by others, be it the government, a computer criminal, a stalker, your employer or even your school.
We at EFF look forward to working with Congress as this legislation moves forward to ensure that the final product properly balances privacy rights, public safety, and the free speech rights of photographers, videographers and journalists. In the meantime, we thank Senators Specter, Feingold and Kaufman for starting a congressional conversation about video privacy that is long overdue.