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Public Statements

Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


By Mr. SPECTER (for himself, Mr. Feingold, and Mr. Kaufman):

S. 3214. A bill to prohibit any person from engaging in certain video surveillance except under the same conditions authorized under chapter 119 of title 18, United States Code, or as authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have sought recognition to introduce the Surreptitious Video Surveillance Act of 2010, on behalf of Senator Feingold, Senator Kaufman, and myself.

This is a bill which I submit is necessary to protect our citizens from unwarranted intrusions in their homes. The bill regulates the use of surreptitious video surveillance in private residences where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Earlier this year, in Lower Merion Township, a suburb of Philadelphia, it was discovered that laptops taken home by students could be activated by school officials and thereby see what was going on inside a private residence.

Surprisingly, this kind of surreptitious surveillance is not prohibited under Federal law. 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 visual, there is no prohibition.

This issue has been in the public domain since 1984--more than 25 years ago--when Judge Richard Posner, in the case captioned U.S. v. Torres, said this:

Electronic interception, being by nature a continuing rather than one-shot invasion, is even less discriminating than a physical search, because it picks up private conversations (most of which will usually have nothing to do with any illegal activity) over a long period of time. ..... [E]lectronic interception is thought to pose a greater potential threat to personal privacy than physical searches. ..... Television surveillance is identical in its indiscriminate character to wiretapping and bugging.

Judge Posner identified the problem a long time ago. Yet it lay dormant until this incident in Lower Merion Township brought it into the public fore.

On March 29, in my capacity as chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, we conducted a hearing in Philadelphia. We had an array of experts very forcefully identify the problem and the need for corrective action.

The New York Times editorialized, on April 2, 2010, in favor of this legislation.

I urge my colleagues to take a look at the bill. I think there is likely to be widespread acceptance that in an era of warrantless wiretaps, when privacy is so much at risk, we ought to fill the gap in the law to cover this kind of electronic surveillance.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a copy of the New York Times editorial dated April 2, 2010, the text of my full statement and the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD


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