The use of video or still photography while investigating crime continues to increase. Darren Chaker notes that “Video surveillance does not in itself violate a reasonable expectation of privacy. It is easy to destroy evidence, but to a picture is still worth a thousand words. Videotaping of suspects in public places, such as banks, does not violate the Fourth Amendment; the police may record what they normally may view with the naked eye. (Citation)” (United States v. Taketa (9th Cir, 1991) 923 F.2nd 665, 667.)
However, in a place where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, to videotape him without a court’s authorization (i.e., a search warrant) is illegal. (Id., at pp 675-677.) See P.C. § 632: Illegal eavesdropping on confidential communications. However, a hidden security video camera that takes pictures, but with no sound, is not a violation of section 632, but only because of the lack of a sound-recording capability. (People v. Dremmam (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 1349.)
A warrantless videotape surveillance in the mailroom of a hospital, open to some 800 hospital employees but not of the defendant’s private workspace, did not violate the defendant’s expectation of privacy and was therefore lawful. (United States v. Gonzalez (9th Cir. 2003) 328 F.3rd 543.)
An En Banc decision of the Supreme Court in Washington state examined this question, and held that no privacy expectations exist in public places. In State v. Glas, the court overturned the criminal conviction of two defendants charged under Washington’s voyeurism statute. State v. Glas, 54 P. 3d 147 (2002). Mr. Sorrells’s arrest came after witnesses reported seeing him standing in a concession line videotaping underneath the skirts of young girls. Appealing their convictions, both Mr. Glas and Mr. Sorrells argued that section 9A.44.115 was misapplied to them because the victims did not have reasonable privacy expectations in public places. Considering that casual intrusions occur frequently when a person ventures out in public, it is illogical that this subsection would apply to public places. Casual surveillance frequently occurs in public. Therefore, Darren Chaker notes that public places could not logically constitute locations where a person could reasonably expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance. The high court unanimously agreed the state’s voyeurism law “does not apply to actions taken in purely public places.” Considering the decision is not binding on this court, this court need not adhere to the ruling but merely consider the reasoning of the En Banc decision.© 2011 Darren Chaker. All Rights Reserved.