Small recording devices prompt big questions

Friday, May 17, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 20
By Harriet Wallace

It is not a criminal act to record someone while in public, and Nashville attorney Brent Horst says that fact makes his job increasingly difficult.

“We are getting to a point where technology is becoming so advanced, and you can be under surveillance at almost any point of time, because devices are so small and can be placed in any place that you wouldn’t see or expect it to be at,’’ Horst says.

“I certainly have my concerns about the overall employment of this technology and its effect on our privacy in general. I have those concerns personally and professionally about how surveillance is moving.’’

A Brentwood company, Applied Technology, designed the software and manages the data for recording sunglasses that take still photos, video and audio, working with a New York startup Pivothead. The glasses are available to private citizens.

Once data is recorded by the glasses, a USB cord is connected to a computer and the images or data is downloaded as Smartphones and other devices have done for some time.

But, recording activity in a public place with the hand-free glasses could easily be done without the target’s knowledge.

This category of technology raises concerns for privacy advocates and attorneys like Horst.

David Jacobs, consumer protection counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy watchdog group, worries that people’s privacy has great potential to be compromised.

“It’s very easy to imagine how in the future you can passively record everything,’’ he says. “That could be problematic for individuals who are engaged in sensitive activities. You can imagine how you might not want to allow recordings near hospitals or pharmacies where people are possibly revealing sensitive medical information.’’

A few police departments in the state are using the video recording glasses, but officers and legal departments are also taking privacy issues seriously.

“When somebody buys (recording glasses) for that type of use, there are some laws that they could possibly violate because a person does have an expectation of privacy,’’ says Clint Shrum of the Governor’s Highway Safety Department.

“If I’m in my home I have an expectation of privacy and if I have someone in the windows looking at me, then they are violating my expectation of privacy,’’ he adds.

“It’s not against the law to buy a pair and record things in the general public, but to use them for private surveillance or to hide them and use them, those are some violations that they could have criminal charges against them,” Shrum explains.

Nashville private investigator Renee Nantz says recording from behind these glasses would change the nature of her work.

“It’s a whole different ball game to pull out a video camera in a bar or an outdoor patio or their car,’’ says Nantz, owner of A.A.R.O.N. Investigations in Nashville.

“You can’t just pull out a video camera and hold it up to your eye and roll video, but if you are wearing these glasses you won’t be suspicious. That’s why these types of cameras and recorders are helpful.’’

If the glasses are misused, Nantz says, don’t blame the tool, blame the person behind the tool.

“It’s kind of like guns,’’ she explains. “There are some people who can have them and they will use them for the right reason. Some people will have them and they can use them for the wrong reason.

“I don’t think it’s anything that should be taken off the market because there is a market for it.’’