FC: John Gilmore and others on Wisconsin's proposed pro-spycam law

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Tue Feb 19 2002 - 07:13:45 PST

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    Previous Politech message:
    "Wisconsin may ban disabling spycams -- except for hidden sexcams"
    To: mannat_private, declanat_private, gnuat_private
    Subject: FC: Wisconsin may ban disabling spycams
    Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 01:48:02 -0800
    From: John Gilmore <gnuat_private>
    Why do they want to pass the new law?  Because current law only makes
    it a crime to *damage* or *misappropriate* a camera.  If you merely
    put a piece of cardboard in front of it, or some duct tape over it, or
    unplug it, that isn't a crime today.  But tomorrow it could get you
    five years in prison.
    SHEEP, WAKE UP!  The police state is coming; it's already here if you
    act like the cops have all the rights and you have none.  Like all of
    you people being herded into the pens at all the airports, with nary a
    bleat.  The only real security is in the grave -- and the totalitarian
    control that the Bush team is hastily assembling, while you are silent,
    will assist your entry into that blissful state.
    The only useful part about this proposed law is that it should protect
    citizens who are using cameras to record the illegal activities of law
    enforcement officials.  Any cop who seizes, breaks, or disables a
    protester's camera would go to prison for five years -- assuming that
    any DA would indict any cop for everyday activities, which is a hollow
    fantasy 99.9% of the time.  If you publish this, the cops will make
    sure to write an exception into the law for themselves anyway.
    Note that the "intent" of the camera is what matters; if they put it
    into a bathroom "for security" then disabling it is a crime, while
    if they put it into a bathroom "to ogle you" then disabling it is
    legal (after they arrest you and try you for it).
    The 9/11 attack has certainly brought out all the scum of the earth,
    with their "put US in control of YOU" schemes to improve the world.
    you would think that while fighting against the Taliban's tight
    control of its populace, we wouldn't be imposing similar controls on
    our own population.  But the irony seems to be lost on the sheeple.
    Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 03:08:18 -0800
    To: declanat_private, Ben Masel <bmaselat_private>
    From: Bill Stewart <bill.stewartat_private>
    Subject: Re: FC: Wisconsin may ban disabling spycams and audio bugs -- 
    except for hidden sexcams
    Cc: politechat_private
    Declan - the best reason for a new law here is to not only
             ban *damaging* spycams, audio bugs, location trackers, etc.,
             which they say is already banned, but to also ban *disabling* them
             or otherwise tampering with legitimately installed surveillance 
             and also to create a large penalty for disabling them with intent 
    to not
             evade being identified or caught when committing future felonies.
             But it has more serious problems than that.
    Ben - We know you're a man with nothing to hide [...quasi-insider 
    I'm also not a lawyer, but I have played a politician on TV.
    The proposed law is written in classic "Amend State Code section 324-21384
    by adding the following words after paragraph 3" style, and the web links don't
    make it easy to follow, but a couple of things jump out:
    1 - The language is overbroad (though the law isn't as broad as the summary.)
             It not only covers physical devices (the clear intent),
             but also software, e.g. surveillance applications on computers,
             whether installed by the user, another owner, malware such as viruses,
             and possibly even the FBI keyloggers recently used against the Mafia.
             And it appears to change the balance of laws restricting and 
             use of surveillance cameras and audio surveillance, with very 
    little examination
             of the impacts, beyond the obvious exemption for disabling voyeur 
    2 - It may be worth looking up s. 942.08 (2), to see if that's just an
             anti-peeping-tom law (the legislative analysis about looking at 
    nude people),
             or if it's about something more general like use of surveillance 
             And just because that's the only exemption to the proposed law 
             in the legislative analysis, that doesn't mean it's your only 
    defense -
             it means that's a nearly-guaranteed defense, but otherwise you
             may need to argue a case in court, with whatever legal representation
             you can afford, to convince a judge or jury that your action was 
             and you may be unsuccessful.
    3 - The proposal doesn't say *anything* about the owner of the property
             where the camera or audio or other bug is *located* - just the
             owner of the bug.  The probable goal of the law is to cover
             spycams and bugs that people plant on their own property or
             in businesses for which they work (e.g. low-level manager planting
             spycams to look at his underlings), but that's not the only case.
             If somebody plants a spycam or audio bug in *your* house or car,
             this bill appears to forbid you to disable it because you don't 
    own it.
             That probably wasn't the intent of the law, but it's the effect,
             even though it's clearly unreasonable.
             That includes bugs planted by criminals other than peeping toms,
             such as burglars who want to know when you're not home,
             wiretaps on your phones, whether planted by criminals, police with 
             police operating illegally without warrants, obsessive ex-boyfriends,
             or detectives hired by your suspicious not-yet-ex-spouse
             (if the bug belongs to the detective, not the spouse),
             peeping toms who only want to *listen* to you have sex
             (because they can see in your back window without a camera),
             nosy neighbors, your kids' friends, stalkers, and so on.
    4 - There are a whole variety of workplace environment issues that
             this law impinges on that may be affected by other law,
             but which this proposed law doesn't address or coordinate with.
             For instance, an employer trying to prevent employee theft
             usually has a legitimate reason to install spycams at work,
             as well as obvious cameras to deter non-employee robbers and burglars,
             but there may be federal or state regulations limiting an
             employer's right to use spycams or audio bugs for other reasons,
             and installation of spycams and audio bugs by low-level managers
             without the authorization from the business's owner or
             corporate officers may have legal restrictions.
             In unionized businesses, there are almost certainly union contract 
             and even non-union businesses can be covered by specific
             workplace privacy laws and expectations of privacy.
             This proposed law ignores all of thee issues.
    5 - Employer/employee privacy issues extend beyond the workplace,
             and some employers have in the past attempted to control
             or discover employee behavior outside their offices.
             While standard surveillance cameras aren't usually relevant,
             and traditional audio bugs aren't often used in employees'
             cars or briefcases, the cost and size have reduced substantially
             as technology has advanced, and for employees who carry laptops home
             or use desktop home computers to work from home,
             audio surveillance is just another software application,
             like a word processor or voice dictation software.
             If your employer installs bugging software on your laptop,
             it appears that this law forbids you to uninstall it
             or even to turn off the microphone when you're not at the office.
             And many new laptops come with video cameras built in.
             Video cameras on computers are becoming common and cheap -
             a $29 camera is good enough for simple videoconferences,
             so businesses are often buying them for office use,
             instead of or in addition to better cameras that cost thousands of 
             and employees who work from home often have them for personal use
             as well as occasional work use.  Just as microphones on laptops
             can be audio bugs, depending on software, a camera on a PC
             can be a surveillance camera depending on who turns it on.
             If you shut down your computer at night, is that a misdemeanor?
    6 - This proposed law also forbids disabling bugs or spycams when you
             don't know who the owner is.  This is especially an issue
             for bugs and cameras discovered at the workplace -
             obviously the camera mounted on the wall is official,
             but was the camera in the light fixture or the
             audio wiretap software you found on your PC
             put there by your competitor trying to steal your next chip design,
             or by an email virus that said it would play a fun game,
             like that animated Christmas tree that said it was from Melissa,
             or was your employer trying to find who's leaking the chip design
             to your competitor?  You could ask your boss, and maybe he'd tell you,
             but maybe the marketing department installed it because
             they don't trust your boss either.  Are you allowed to remove it?
             How can you tell if that would be illegal?
    7 - The proposed law also doesn't include exemptions for government offices -
             including police stations as well as defense contractors
             or universities working on sensitive material.
             While authors such as David Brin ("The Transparent Society")
             make strong arguments about the need for government activities
             to be carried out in public to prevent abuses,
             there are balances that need to be made between an arrestee's
             need for privacy when talking to his lawyer in a police station
             and the Internal Affairs department spying on potentially bad cops.
    8 - This proposed law doesn't address locations such as hotels
             or other places that have a strong expectation of privacy.
             A security camera in a hotel or bank lobby to deter theft
             isn't a problem - but a camera in the ceiling of a hotel room is,
             and even though a reasonable person would expect that such a camera
             was installed by a voyeur and subject to the law's exemptions,
             it's not clear that it's legal to cover it up without proof.
             In most cases, someone who covered up such a camera wouldn't be 
             but if police are investigating potential prostitution at a hotel,
             someone who covered up a camera might be charged with violating this
             proposed law even though such actions were perfectly reasonable.
    The proposed law may seem reasonable on its face, but it needs a lot of work
    before it's something that's ready for a legislature to adopt.
                             Bill Stewart, San Francisco, CA.
    Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 07:44:56 -0500
    To: declanat_private
    From: "J.D. Abolins" <jda-irat_private>
    Subject: Re: FC: Wisconsin may ban disabling spycams -- except for hidden 
    Cc: grayson Barber <graysonEsqat_private>
    At 10:52 PM 2/18/02 -0500, you wrote:
     > [Of course if "current law" really does provide
     > "various penalties for damaging or misappropriating"
     >  someone else's property, why -- except to pad the
     > resumes of legislators -- do we need *new* laws?
     > --Declan]
    Ah, there are people who'll say we need to send the message that 
    surveillance is paramount to security and the new law is needed to get the 
    message out. <bleah>
    I'll have to look at the exact text of the law but I already see a big 
    problem with its wording.
     >"Current law provides various penalties for damaging or misappropriating
     > the property of another.  This bill prohibits a person from tampering
     > with a security device or surveillance device that is owned by another
     > by disconnecting, altering, dismantling, damaging, covering up,
     > removing, or destroying the device without the consent of the owner and
     > with the intent either to cause the device to become inoperative or to
     > interfere with or circumvent the operation of the device.
    "...interfere with or circumvent the operation of the device." leaves a 
    wide opening for surprising results. At first glance, it could look like 
    the interference/circumvention only entails direct action to the spycam and 
    its supporting systems. But if the "operation" of the device is interpreted 
    to mean the successful capture of the intended "imagescape" then indirect 
    acts could be covered. If, for example, a person wears a mask, puts up a 
    blocking screen, or --if the spycam looks into your home-- closing the 
    curtains. it would interfere/circumvent the operation of the spycam in this 
    interpretation. (Somewhere in between would be the "blinding of some types 
    of cameras by shining bright lights at it. Shine that MAG Light at a 
    spycam, get fined or go to jail.)
    Sounds far fetched that any court or government body would hold such an 
    interpretation? Several year ago, the Wall Street Journal gave an example 
    of interference/circumvention interpretations in regards to the Endangered 
    Species Act. An inventor developed a coyote repellent sheep dip. Looked 
    like a great help for ranchers and, by lessening an incentive for wiping 
    out the beasties, for the coyotes. The USEPA determined that the coyote 
    repellent violated the ESA. How? It interferes with predatory behavior of 
    One of the interesting things in the exclusions for the spycam protection 
    law is an apparent lack of consideration for the scope of view of the 
    camera. The assumptions seems to be that the cams view the premises 
    associated with the spycam's use. But some cams can view more than those 
    premises. A parking lot cam might pick up other properties. If the spycam's 
    owners have property protection for the cam, the other property owners have 
    the option of circumventing the gaze of the spycam into their properties. 
    (This could be interesting if the law results in the abrogation of other 
    property owners rights in the name of protecting surveillence as a principle.)
    J.D. Abolins (not an attorney)
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