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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    Update on Spouses, Exes Spying With Surveillance Technology

    We’ve discussed before the use of surveillance technology, such as video cameras and GPS trackers, by people to spy on their partners or spouses. In February, USA Today reported on the surveillance and spying techniques that people are using against spouses in divorce proceedings, including a man in Tennessee whose wife, according to federal records, installed spy software on his computer to intercept and alter his e-mails. Last year, the Omaha World-Herald reported on a case in Nebraska concerning surreptitious audio surveillance by a woman who had inserted an audio recording device into her daughter’s toy bear to record her ex-husband.

    Now, USA Today reports on a divorce case in Ohio concerning a hidden surveillance system installed by a husband to spy on his wife; the system included a camera, microphone and computer-monitoring software:

    CINCINNATI — Even when Catherine Zang was home alone, her husband was watching. A hidden video camera tracked her movements inside parts of the couple’s Cincinnati-area home. A microphone behind a wall recorded sound in the living room and kitchen. Software in the computer copied her emails and instant messages.

    The secret recordings went on for months, maybe longer, Zang believes. In that time, she thinks her husband spied on her day after day while she talked on the phone, sat on the couch or used the computer in what she thought was the privacy of her own home.

    The recordings, discovered during divorce proceedings in 2009, are now at the heart of a federal court battle over the growing use of surveillance technology and the right to privacy in the 21st Century.

    Zang’s divorce from her husband, Joseph C. Zang, became final this year. But the couple’s fight continues in U.S. District Court here with two lawsuits involving almost a dozen friends and relatives, a prominent Cincinnati defense lawyer and a company that manufactures computer monitoring software. [...]

    Privacy experts and divorce lawyers say the Zangs’ case is unusual only because their fight is playing out in court. They say high-tech snooping among friends, housemates and relatives is increasingly common, but those targeted often don’t find out about it — or are too embarrassed to challenge it. [...]

    Ohio and federal wiretapping laws permit audio recording as long as one of the parties in the conversation is aware of the recording.

    Catherine Zang argues her ex-husband ran afoul of those “single consent” laws because the surveillance was almost constant, capturing her talking on the phone and visiting with friends and relatives when he was not there.

    But the law isn’t as clear as it might seem.

    Most wiretapping laws are decades old and apply only to audio recordings. Visual images aren’t covered, and the privacy of emails and instant messages still is being hashed out in courts around the country.

    The other hurdle is Joe Zang’s residency in the family home, which likely gives him more legal leeway. For example, homeowners can install home security systems that include video and audio, and they can use “nanny cams” to monitor baby sitters in their homes.

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