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Governor urged to sign voyeurism bill

National Public Radio

Imagine discovering a convicted sex offender video recording your children from the next yard. That is a crime, right? Not in New York State.

That is what Sen. Catharine Young found out when a constituent approached her about that situation: often there is nothing that can be done to stop the recording unless the sex offender is still under court supervision.

Young said the sex offender would not stop and police said they could not do anything because his parole time had expired.

"He had spent seven years in prison for molesting little boys, ages 11 to 13. He was living next door to her family," Young said. "Her husband had asked him to stop videotaping their backyard. He had set up video cameras that were trained on their backyard where their children play and where their family spent their recreational time."

After several years of effort, a bill co-sponsored by the Olean Republican and Democratic Assemblymember Ed Braunstein of Bayside that allows a family to sue voyeurs is on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk, awaiting his decision. Young admits it should not be necessary to go to court to protect the privacy of your children on your own property.

"A lot of things don't make common sense, unfortunately, and you would think that you would be able to have the expectation of privacy in your own backyard," Young said. "And, it does seem like you shouldn't have to go to court, but these are extreme cases and this isn't the first case in New York where we have had this situation of sex offenders, for example, living next door and videotaping backyards."

In 2003, Stephanie's Law made it a felony to conduct indoor surveillance. That measure was prompted by a landlord who installed a surveillance camera in the smoke detector of a woman's bedroom. The landlord could only be fined and put on probation.

Young said one problem her bill does not deal with is drones. She said Washington has argued that is the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration. However, Young said that may be changing.

"The FAA actually has issued a guidance document about instances in which state and local regulation of drones is permissible," she said, "and that includes using State Police power, so the State Police would be able to use a drone. Say they are searching for someone who is lost or so on. But, also, they need to be prohibited for voyeurism and that's really what this is about. This is about voyeurism."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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