Since no specific right to privacy is defined in the United State Constitution, what constitutes an invasion of privacy varies among jurisdictions. In New York state, there's an implied right to place and use imaging devices in public places, in the workplace and on your own property. You must still allow for privacy, however, so the right to videotape does not extend to bathrooms, changing rooms and other areas a person may consider private.
Video Violations of Individual Privacy
In New York, you may videotape a subject without her consent, unless she has a reasonable expectation of privacy, in which case it becomes trespassing. A non-permissive recording of another person's image for voyeuristic, profitable, defamatory or exploitative purposes constitutes a Class D felony, punishable by two to seven years in jail. The statute, known as Stephanie’s Law, was engendered by miniaturization technology. For months, a woman was spied upon by her landlord through a tiny video cameras concealed inside her apartment's smoke alarms. Unfortunately, the predator could only be prosecuted for misdemeanor trespassing, as the law punishing outside-the-walls voyeurism as a felony at the time hinged on the phrase, “through windows.”
Enacted in 2003, Stephanie’s Law has wide applications, covering violations ranging from peeping Toms to wild party pictures and school kids “up-skirting” classmates with their cell phone cams. Hopefully, this broad statutory language is tempered by prosecutorial discretion.
Videotaping in the Workplace
New York State employers may videotape employees in secret, but not in private areas such as rest rooms, locker rooms or changing areas. Employers cannot eavesdrop on conversations, however, so the videotape may not contain an audio component or capture the human voice in any way. It’s not lawful to videotape employees in a discriminatory or harassing way, for example, by videotaping some employees but not others.
The Public Videotaping Police Officers
Members of the public have a First Amendment right to videotape law enforcement officers while performing their duties in public. The police officer can ask you to stop recording but he does not have the right to take your phone or delete your images. Take care, however, since it’s illegal to eavesdrop in New York State. In practical terms, this means you cannot record a police officer in secret or obstruct police activity while filming.
Police Officers Videotaping the Public
Video surveillance cameras have been fixtures in New York City since the 1990s. More than 4,500 of them are visible from street level in Manhattan alone. Public videography is controversial issue, pitting public safety against privacy rights and national security versus impinged civil liberties. As crime deterrents, the cameras are of certain benefit. Conversely, the Big Brother implications are chilling to others. As summarized by Jay Stanley of the ACLU, “We are heading toward a total surveillance society, in which your every move is recorded by some computer."
New York state makes it a crime to videotape someone when she has a reasonable right to privacy, so you cannot install secret cameras in order to eavesdrop. Videotaping in public is generally OK as long as you're not trespassing.
- Lawyers.com: Videotaping and Photography on Private Property
- Time Magazine: Should Videotaping the Police Really be a Crime?; Adam Cohen; August 2010
- Law Offices of David Rich: May My Business In New York Secretly Make A Video Recording Of Its Employees In The Workplace?
- New York Daily news: NYPD Cops Receive Memo Reminding Them They Can Be Filmed While on Duty