NYCLU Critical of City Council's Move to Mandate Nightclub Surveillance Cameras Without Necessary Privacy Protections

February 28, 2007 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – The New York Civil Liberties Union condemned legislation passed by the New York City Council today requiring nightclubs to install video surveillance cameras without implementing adequate privacy protections to prevent those cameras’ abuse.

“While we appreciate the Council’s effort to address some privacy concerns, its bill does not ultimately succeed in implementing protections against unauthorized access and dissemination of video surveillance images,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. “This is the first time the Council has mandated video surveillance by a private entity, and the project was ill-conceived from the outset: surveillance has not been shown to prevent crime, and in mandating it the Council has failed to protect club patrons from having their photographs stored and disseminated.”

Lieberman charged that the lack of protections against the unauthorized or inappropriate use of video images undermines the rights of speech, expression, association and due process.

In a report published late last year and in testimony given before the City Council in October, the NYCLU documented examples of abuses of video surveillance, such as the police department’s archiving of video surveillance recordings of demonstrators engaged in lawful political demonstrations at the Republican National Convention. This practice has since been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. The NYCLU also pointed to the absence of laws or regulations in New York City to protect against the unauthorized or inappropriate use of video surveillance technology.

The NYCLU encouraged the City Council to write protections into the bill, including:

  • a limitation on the further dissemination of city-mandated video images by agencies to which a club or bar has provided those images;
  • a limitation on the use and retention of videotape provided to the police department, unless that videotape is being used in a criminal investigation; and
  • a limitation on the mandated operation of video surveillance cameras to the hours during which a cabaret or public dance hall is open to the public.

“The advances in video technology have exceeded the public’s understanding of the potential for abuse,” said Robert A. Perry, NYCLU Legislative Director. “Without necessary safeguards, this technology may seriously compromise basic rights and liberties. We hope that the Council will work with us to develop those safeguards.”

The NYCLU’s report is available online at:

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