Regulate hidden cameras

Regulate hidden cameras
The US Congress has passed a federal law that could help curb the rise in mobile phone camera voyeurism
In India, violation of privacy has become a norm these days. Everywhere you go, you realise that hidden cameras are installed. Your office, your workplace, public places, private places… the list is endless. Someone is recording you and your activities. Who is to blame for this? Yes, the law. This is so, because India does not give any premium to privacy.

While the hidden camera is a wonderful tool for invasion of individual privacy, there is another aspect to this issue. Can the output of hidden cameras be taken on their face value and be proved?

It is here that the law adopts an interesting position. In India, output from digital cameras need to be duly proved as electronic evidence as per the mandatory provisions of the amended Indian Evidence Act. The use of hidden camera raises various issues, as has been highlighted by the recent BPO company case where photographs of employees having sexual intercourse, taken from the company’s spy camera, were leaked over the internet. This was done without any attempt to hide the identity of the employees.

Thus, the hidden camera output can be originally produced in a court of law. But the electronic output of the hidden camera has to satisfy the parameters of primary and secondary evidence, depending upon the facts and circumstance of each case. The law would place tremendous responsibility upon the proponent of the electronic output of the hidden camera to prove that the said output has not been tampered with or manipulated in any manner.

However, the government needs to strongly deal with the use of mobile cameras in public places and government offices. Further, the use of such cameras in restricted places needs to be banned. A number of hotels have already banned use of mobile cameras in swimming pools and massage parlours. The important issue is that reasonable restrictions need to be imposed for the good of the general public. A number of countries have already banned mobile phones and hidden cameras.

World-wide there are various laws affecting the usage of hidden cameras. In the US, different states have different legislations on hidden cameras. In some states, sound recordings are prohibited and in some cases videos are allowed if the sound recording is not there, as the same is not illegal. With respect to law enforcement agencies and police-licensed private detectives in the US, they are allowed to use them under certain circumstances under carefully-controlled conditions. Licensed private detectives can use them for collection of evidence, but not in a sting operation. Only the Federal Bureau of Investigation can mount a sting operation. No individual, not even a journalist, can.

With respect to usage of cameras in private places, the laws of 13 states in the US expressly prohibit the unauthorised installation or use of cameras in private places.

In Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Utah, installation or use of any device for photographing, observing or overhearing events or sounds in a private place without the permission of the people photographed or observed, is against the law. Several states have laws prohibiting the use of hidden cameras in only certain circumstances, such as in locker rooms or restrooms, or for the purpose of viewing a person in a state of partial or full nudity.

With the increase in mobile phone camera voyeur-ism, the US Congress had passed a federal law aimed at curbing illicit picture-taking on federal government property. The law made it illegal to use an electronic device to snap pictures of naked or partially clothed people in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as bathrooms or dressing rooms. The law imposes a fine of up to $100,000, or a year in prison or both on violators.

The legislation would apply only in federal jurisdictions, such as federal buildings, national parks or military bases, but it carves out exceptions for law enforcement, intelligence and prison work.

Florida and South Dakota were the other two states that included camera phone voyeurism laws as well. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were some of the other countries that had either banned or restricted camera phone use. In Australia, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association set guidelines for usage of camera phones by customers in a responsible manner and to detail their legal obligations.

India needs to follow the example of Korea. All cellular equipment manufacturers need to install a loud beep that must be audible to people present in an area of around a specified radius of 10 ft around the phone camera. We are yet to come up with any law restricting the use of camera phones despite the various crimes that have taken place using the same. However, Samsung India has come up with guidelines for its customers regarding usage of camera phones.

However, law alone cannot deal with this issue. There is a need to come up with legal guidelines to regulate hidden camera usage. At a time when there are noises from all quarters that the IT Act should be amended, the government needs to seize the opportunity and come up with appropriate steps regarding hidden camera usage. Only in effectively regulating the use of hidden cameras lies the way ahead for a vibrant IT economy like ours.

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