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Sen. Arlen Specter wants to prohibit ‘surreptitious video surveillance’

Sen. Arlen Specter

Reacting to the news that a high school in Lower Merion, PA, had used surveillance cameras built into the laptops it had issued to some of its students to spy on those students in their homes, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), has introduced legislation that would prohibit such video surveillance.

The measure, S. 3214, known as the Surreptitious Video Surveillance Act of 2010, would not allow video shot in a residence in ways that violated provisions of the act to be introduced as evidence in a trial, hearing or other legal proceeding. “The bill regulates the use of surreptitious video surveillance in private residences where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy,” said Sen. Specter, on the floor of the Senate on April 15.

“The wiretap laws specify it is a violation of law to intercept a telephone conversation or to have a microphone that overhears a private conversation, but if it is a visual, there is no prohibition,” explained the Pennsylvania lawmaker.

The Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs, of which Specter is chairman, held a hearing on this controversial topic in Philadelphia on March 29.

A few days later, an editorial in The New York Times urged Congress to “move quickly to make this change.”

“Conducting video surveillance of students in their home is an enormous invasion of their privacy,” the Times editorialized. “If the district was really worried about losing the laptops, it could have used GPS devices to track their whereabouts or other less-intrusive methods. Whatever it did, the school had a responsibility to inform students that if they accepted the laptops, they would also accept monitoring.”



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