Monday, April 13, 2009
Help Me Howard: Camera Concerns
Ever go to the beach or a public pool and just get that feeling like someone is watching you? A mom in one community is concerned a neighbor is doing just that by installing a video camera within range of the common pool, but does she even have a right to privacy? Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser wades into this one.
WSVN -- Montserrat used to love to watch her kids swim in her association's pool. I said "used to love to watch" because now she is worried someone else is watching.
Montserrat Skinner: "This was an excellent pool until somebody decided to install a camera."
The neighbor that lives next to the pool mounted this domed video camera on the second story of their townhouse.
Montserrat Skinner: "And I'm a mother, I have a 16-year-old child. She comes to the pool. I don't want her to be on tape and be on the Internet. It is very uncomfortable."
Cameras like this usually have an adjustable lens. The neighbor could be watching their own backyard, the playground next to the pool or people sunbathing at the pool.
Montserrat Skinner: "That camera, it could lead to someone taping something that is inappropriate. It could zoom in. It's a color camera, and with everything happening right now, as a mother, I don't like it."
Since the outer casing is reflective, it's tough to tell where it's pointed, but the fact that it could be pointed at people in the pool bothers Montserrat.
Montserrat Skinner: "I feel observed, and it is very annoying. I can't enjoy the pool anymore."
Montserrat complained to an association board member.
Montserrat Skinner: "She told me, 'Well, I know the family. He's a family guy, you don't worry about anything. He's my friend,' and it ended right there."
But that didn't make Montserrat feel better, so she called the property manager to find out if the camera was legal.
Montserrat Skinner: "They said, 'Well, we are going to investigate,' and I haven't got any answer or anything about what is happening."
With summer coming and this thing still there, Montserrat has had enough.
Montserrat Skinner: "I'm OK with security for your property, but you don't need to install something that, for me, invades my privacy and my children. I want it down, I'm sorry, I want it down."
But if you are at a community pool do you have a right to privacy from potentially prying eyes? Let's check with a guy no one wants to watch in a bathing suit: Howard.
Howard Finkelstein: "No, you do not have what the law refers to as 'an expectation of privacy' while swimming in a community or public pool. A good rule of thumb is any place where a person's eyes can look so can a camera. So, whether you are looking from the pool itself, from a balcony, on a street or across a canal, if you can see it with your eyes, you can take pictures with a camera."
When we went to speak with the couple who installed the camera they didn't want to go on TV but did show us the camera Montserrat was concerned about. It was pointed at their backyard. They told us they installed it for security reasons after several break-ins in the neighborhood. The camera does swivel, but they told us they don't watch the pool, just their property. They added, "We know there are freaky people out there, but we are not freaks," and speaking of those freaks, Howard says the law protects them.
Howard Finkelstein: "Not only can you take pictures of people in public or community places, but, legally, you can post them on the Internet, even sell them to anyone who wants to buy them. However, you cannot take pictures of people in places where they have an expectation of privacy, like through their window or in the pool in their enclosed backyard."
Learning the law is against her does not make Montserrat happy and, in fact, makes her even more uncomfortable.
Montserrat Skinner: "I love this pool, I love this community, I love living here, but I'm not enjoying it because of somebody's actions."
Patrick Fraser: "Of course, the law helps paparazzi, the photographers who follow stars or people in the spotlight around. Sometimes they do shoot pictures in places the law forbids. That's why law schools kept churning out lawyers to keep filing lawsuits."
Ready for your private problem to become a public issue? You don't need to tape anything. Contact us, we'll pool our talents and hope everything goes swimmingly.
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