Some area residents are hoping the Ulster Town Board will consider adopting a local law to strengthen state laws pertaining to unwarranted video surveillance on residential property.
The matter was brought forth during the public speaking session at the end of a Town Board meeting held on Thursday, March 16, with a pair of local residents speaking on others’ behalf.
“As far as I know, there is no law within our town code that addresses video surveillance of others property or a personal privacy outside and inside their homes, irrespective of intent,” said Regis Obijiski, who said he felt compelled to come forward after a conversation with a neighbor. “Recently, the neighbor asked me to look at the cameras in question, one panning her entire backyard, another pointing to her living room, and a third pointing to her upstairs bedroom.”
Obijiski said that at around 7:20 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14, he witnessed the motion-activated camera fixed on his neighbor’s backyard suddenly shine a bright light.
“If the camera picks up the lighted area, the complainant neighbor would have no privacy whatsoever in her backyard,” Obijiski said.
Obijiski said he initially told his neighbor she should come before the Town Board, and if they were unable to act, the next step might be civil court, but as she lacked the means to pursue a resolution in court, he decided to come to the Board himself. Obijiski said he believed municipal legislation would align with New York State Civil Rights Law Section 52-A, Chapter 6. Article 5, which relates to the private right of action for unwarranted video imaging of residential premises, specifically in the backyard.
That legislation, published on September 24, 2017, claims that “(a)ny owner or tenant of residential real property shall have a private right of action for damages against any person who installs or affixes a video imaging device on property adjoining such residential real property for the purpose of video taping or taking moving digital images of the recreational activities which occur in the backyard of the residential real property without the written consent thereto of such owner and/or tenant with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, or with intent to threaten the person or property of another person.”
The law does not apply to law enforcement personnel engaging in authorized legal surveillance.
“I’m recommending the Town Board consider a town law that protects its citizens from uninvited video surveillance by private cameras of any sort, including drones, without explicit permission of a property owner,” Obijiski said. “Town of Ulster residents should not be required to take their neighbors to court when a simple local law would suffice. We have laws that regulate noise, dogs, chickens, swimming pools, ATV’s, littering, garbage burning, behavior at public meetings and much more. We should also protect our residents from unwarranted video surveillance.”
Obijiski added that he did not consider security cameras like video-enhanced doorbells or those that record a resident’s own property, but added that there should be a clear delineation of what is appropriate when it comes to home security.
“A family’s security interests should be respected, but not at the expense of another’s privacy,” he said.
Also coming before the Town Board was Laura Hartmann, who read a letter by local resident Vicki Lucarini, who was unable to attend the meeting. In her letter, Lucarini said she supported the creation and adoption of a municipal law to prevent “violation of privacy and harassment by a person or group through video surveillance equipment such as cameras, drones or any other video surveillance devices.”
“These devices have been widely available to everyone and are subject to abuse because of this,” read Lucarini’s letter. “No one should have the right to keep a watch over someone or someone else’s residential property without their consent. After all, our home and property is where we not only live and raise our families, but a place where we seek refuge and rest, a place where we feel safe without intrusion.”
Lucarini said such surveillance can increase stress and anxiety, citing a Mayo Clinic study that identified the increased risk of headaches, chest pain, fatigue, stomach upset and sleep problems, as well as long-term effects like high blood pressure, heart disease, increased weight and diabetes.
“I mention this to highlight the seriousness of the situation,” read Lucarini’s letter. “We all know the feeling after a long, hard day at work or any other activity, what a pleasure it is to be in the peace and quiet and the privacy of our home. Let us safeguard this for everyone in our town.”
Town Supervisor James E. Quigley, III, said he planned to forward Lucarini’s letter to Ulster Town Attorney Jason Kovacs for consideration.