New York Civil Rights & Criminal Defense Lawyers

What is Unlawful Surveillance?

In an age where technology is ever-advancing and privacy is increasingly valued, the issue of unlawful surveillance has become a hot-button topic in New York, as well as the rest of the world. New York State takes the privacy of its citizens seriously, and this is reflected in its stringent laws against unlawful surveillance. But what exactly constitutes unlawful surveillance in the Empire State?

The Legal Definition

Unlawful surveillance in New York is defined under the New York Penal Law sections 250.45 to 250.60. These statutes make it a crime to secretly observe or record another person without their consent in situations where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This includes, but is not limited to, places like someone’s home, a locker room, or a bathroom.

Types of Unlawful Surveillance in New York

Unlawful surveillance is a broad term that encompasses various forms of privacy invasion. In New York, the law recognizes several specific types of unlawful surveillance, each with its own nuances and legal implications. Let’s explore these in more detail:

Video Surveillance

One of the most common forms of unlawful surveillance is the use of hidden cameras. These devices can be surreptitiously placed in private areas such as bedrooms, bathrooms, changing rooms, and other locations where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The law prohibits the installation of such devices with the intent to spy on or record someone without their knowledge and consent.

Audio Recording

Eavesdropping or audio recording conversations without the consent of the people involved is another form of unlawful surveillance. New York is known as a “one-party consent” state, meaning that at least one person involved in the conversation must be aware of and consent to the recording. However, if neither party is aware that they are being recorded, it is considered illegal.


Taking unauthorized photographs of individuals in settings where they expect privacy is also unlawful. This includes non-consensual photography of a person’s intimate body parts, even in public places, under what is commonly referred to as “upskirt” or “downblouse” laws. Such actions are not only invasive but also demeaning and are treated as criminal offenses.

GPS Tracking

The unauthorized use of GPS devices to track someone’s movements also falls under the umbrella of unlawful surveillance. Placing a GPS tracker on someone’s vehicle or personal belongings without consent is a violation of their privacy and is subject to legal penalties.

Cyber Surveillance

With the rise of the internet and digital communication, cyber surveillance has become a growing concern. This can include unauthorized access to someone’s personal emails, social media accounts, or other digital communications. It also encompasses the use of malware or spyware to monitor a person’s computer or smartphone activities without their consent.


The use of drones for surveillance purposes is a relatively new area of concern. Flying a drone equipped with cameras over private property to record individuals without their consent can be considered unlawful surveillance. As drone technology becomes more accessible, legal frameworks are evolving to address these privacy concerns.

Live Streaming

Unlawfully live streaming private acts without consent is another modern form of surveillance. This could involve streaming private interactions, personal moments, or other sensitive content without the knowledge of the individuals being recorded.

What Type of Legal Violation is Unlawful Surveillance?

Unlawful surveillance is typically categorized as a privacy violation and is considered a criminal offense under New York State law. The specific type of legal violation can vary depending on the nature and circumstances of the surveillance activity. Here are the general categories under which unlawful surveillance might fall:

Criminal Violation

In New York, unlawful surveillance is primarily treated as a criminal violation. The New York Penal Law sections 250.45 to 250.60 outline the specific offenses related to unlawful surveillance, which can range from misdemeanors to felonies. For instance:

  • Unlawful Surveillance in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 250.45): This is a class E felony and involves the surreptitious recording or viewing of a person in a private setting where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, without their consent.
  • Unlawful Surveillance in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 250.50): This is a class D felony and is charged when a person commits the crime of unlawful surveillance in the second degree and has been previously convicted of the same offense.

Civil Violation

Victims of unlawful surveillance may also have civil remedies available to them. They can potentially file a lawsuit against the perpetrator for damages resulting from the invasion of privacy. In a civil context, the victim may seek compensation for any harm suffered, which can include emotional distress, harm to reputation, or other damages.

Tort Claim

Unlawful surveillance can give rise to a tort claim for invasion of privacy. Although New York does not recognize a general right to privacy that can be enforced through a civil lawsuit, there are specific provisions under the civil rights law that provide a right of action for certain privacy violations, such as the use of a person’s likeness without consent.

Federal Violation

Depending on the method and scope of the surveillance, federal laws may also be implicated. For example, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act are federal statutes that address unauthorized interception of electronic communications and the recording of private areas of individuals without consent, respectively.

The Expectation of Privacy

A key component of unlawful surveillance is the expectation of privacy. If a person is in a public place, they generally do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, even in public settings, if an individual’s private intimate areas are recorded without consent, it may constitute unlawful surveillance.

Penalties for Unlawful Surveillance in New York

Unlawful surveillance is not only a violation of privacy but also a serious criminal offense in New York State. The penalties for engaging in such activities are designed to reflect the severity of the intrusion. Here’s a closer look at the potential legal consequences for those convicted of unlawful surveillance:

Criminal Penalties

The criminal penalties for unlawful surveillance can vary depending on the degree of the offense and the offender’s criminal history.

  • Unlawful Surveillance in the Second Degree: As a class E felony, this can result in a sentence of up to 4 years in prison. This charge applies to individuals who, for their own amusement, sexual arousal, or profit, surreptitiously view, broadcast, or record a person in a private setting without their consent.
  • Unlawful Surveillance in the First Degree: This is a class D felony and carries harsher penalties, including up to 7 years in prison. This charge is typically reserved for those who have a prior conviction for the same offense or who disseminate the recorded images or videos.


In addition to imprisonment, individuals convicted of unlawful surveillance may also be subject to significant fines. These fines are imposed by the court and are intended to serve as a financial deterrent to committing the offense.

Restitution and Damages

Courts may order those convicted of unlawful surveillance to pay restitution to the victims. Restitution is designed to compensate victims for the direct financial losses they incurred as a result of the crime, such as counseling costs or the expense of moving to a new residence for safety and privacy.


Instead of, or in addition to, imprisonment, a court may sentence an individual to a period of probation. During probation, the individual must comply with various conditions set by the court, such as regular check-ins with a probation officer, restrictions on internet use, or other court-mandated requirements.

Sex Offender Registration

In some cases, if the unlawful surveillance is sexually motivated and the circumstances meet certain criteria, the offender may be required to register as a sex offender. This can have long-lasting implications for where the offender can live and work, and it involves ongoing reporting to law enforcement.

Civil Liability

Victims of unlawful surveillance may also pursue civil action against the perpetrator. This can result in the awarding of compensatory and, in some cases, punitive damages for the invasion of privacy, emotional distress, and any other harm suffered due to the unlawful surveillance.

Impact on Employment and Personal Life

A conviction for unlawful surveillance can have far-reaching effects beyond the immediate legal penalties. It can impact an individual’s employment opportunities, professional licenses, and personal relationships. The stigma associated with such a conviction, particularly if it involves registration as a sex offender, can be devastating.

Protecting Yourself from Unlawful Surveillance

Awareness is the first step in protection. Be mindful of your surroundings and the potential for hidden cameras or recording devices, especially in private spaces outside your home. If you suspect you are being unlawfully surveilled, contact law enforcement.

Steps to Take If You’re a Victim of Unlawful Surveillance in New York

Discovering that you’ve been a victim of unlawful surveillance can be a deeply unsettling experience. It’s a violation of your privacy and personal space that can leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to know that the law is on your side. Here are the steps you should take if you suspect you’re a victim of unlawful surveillance:

1. Ensure Your Immediate Safety

If you believe you’re currently under surveillance, prioritize your safety. If you’re in immediate danger, leave the area and go to a safe location. Do not attempt to confront the suspected perpetrator.

2. Preserve Evidence

If you discover any devices, such as cameras or recording equipment, try not to touch them to preserve fingerprints. Take photographs of the devices with your phone, including their locations. If you’ve found any digital files or recordings, secure copies of them. This evidence will be crucial for law enforcement and any subsequent legal action.

3. Cease Communication

If you suspect that your electronic devices are compromised, stop using them immediately. This includes your computer, smartphone, and tablet. If necessary, use alternative means to communicate or obtain a new device that the perpetrator has not had access to.

4. Report the Incident

Contact the police and file a report. Provide them with all the evidence you have collected. The police will take it from there and begin an investigation. Remember to obtain a copy of the police report for your records.

5. Document Everything

Keep a detailed record of everything related to the incident, including dates, times, locations, and any interactions that may be relevant. Document any expenses incurred as a result of the surveillance, such as changing locks, staying at a hotel, or seeking counseling.

6. Consult an Attorney

Contact an attorney who has experience in privacy or criminal law. They can advise you on your rights and help you understand the legal options available to you. An attorney can also assist in securing a court order to prevent further surveillance and harassment.

7. Seek Support

The psychological impact of being surveilled can be significant. Consider seeking support from a counselor or therapist who can help you cope with the emotional aftermath. Support groups and advocacy organizations can also provide resources and assistance.

8. Protect Your Privacy

Moving forward, take steps to protect your privacy. This may include changing passwords, securing your online accounts, installing security software, and being more aware of your surroundings.

9. Consider a Civil Suit

Discuss with your attorney the possibility of filing a civil suit against the perpetrator. You may be entitled to compensation for damages, including emotional distress.

10. Stay Informed

As your case progresses, stay informed about the investigation and your legal proceedings. Maintain communication with your attorney and law enforcement officials to ensure you’re up-to-date on any developments.


Being a victim of unlawful surveillance is a serious matter, and taking immediate action is crucial. By following these steps, you can help ensure your safety, gather the necessary evidence, and begin the process of seeking justice. Remember, you have rights, and there are laws in place to protect those rights and hold perpetrators accountable.

Protecting Your Privacy: Our Commitment at Sivin, Miller & Roche LLP

At Sivin, Miller & Roche LLP, we understand the profound impact that unlawful surveillance can have on your life. It’s not just an invasion of your privacy; it’s a breach of your fundamental rights. As a firm deeply rooted in the defense of civil liberties, we are dedicated to supporting victims of unlawful surveillance through every legal avenue available. Here’s how we can help:

Experienced Legal Guidance

Our team has extensive experience in civil rights law, including cases involving unlawful surveillance. We stay abreast of the evolving legal landscape to provide you with informed and effective representation.

Comprehensive Investigations

We employ a meticulous approach to evidence gathering, working with technology experts when necessary, to build a robust case. Our goal is to uncover and present compelling evidence to support your claim.

Navigating Criminal and Civil Proceedings

While we have experience in civil litigation, we understand the intersection between criminal and civil law in cases of unlawful surveillance. We guide our clients through the complexities of both, ensuring their rights are protected on every front.

Civil Litigation and Advocacy

Our attorneys are prepared to pursue justice in the courtroom, advocating for your right to compensation for the harm you’ve suffered. We are committed to holding those who violate your privacy accountable for their actions.

Settlement Negotiations

When appropriate, we engage in strategic negotiations to reach a settlement that acknowledges the severity of the violation and compensates you fairly, without the need for a trial.

Courtroom Representation

If your case proceeds to trial, you can count on our seasoned litigators to represent you with tenacity and skill. We are dedicated to presenting your case effectively to achieve a favorable outcome.

Privacy Protection Strategies

Beyond the courtroom, we offer counsel on safeguarding your privacy against future intrusions, providing you with the tools and knowledge to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Emotional Support and Resources

Recognizing the emotional toll of unlawful surveillance, we connect our clients with professional counseling services and support networks, ensuring they receive comprehensive care.

Personalized Service

We believe in a personalized approach, keeping you informed at every stage of the legal process and involving you in key decisions. Your peace of mind is our priority.

Our Pledge to You

At Sivin, Miller & Roche LLP, your fight is our fight. We pledge to stand with you, to uphold your rights, and to work tirelessly in pursuit of the justice you deserve. If you’ve been a victim of unlawful surveillance, reach out to us. Let’s take the first step towards restoring your privacy and your peace of mind together.




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