The New York Civil Liberties Union is distressed to learn that a New York City Police Department infrared camera unit, charged with recording protest activity during a Republican National Convention-related demonstration, violated the privacy rights of a Manhattan couple by filming them kissing on an apartment roof. The NYCLU believes that regulations and training for police are needed to protect the privacy of individuals who suffer from these abuses.

“Powerful surveillance tools create temptations for law enforcement personnel to abuse them for personal purposes,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “This is not the first time police officials have wrongfully pried into private affairs in the name of security. We need clear regulations and training so that technology does not destroy the privacy we rely on as law-abiding people in a democracy.”

The incident, as reported on local TV last night, took place during the Critical Mass bicycle protest, at which hundreds of protestors were arrested. A police helicopter was equipped with an infrared camera, which detects and records images according to how much heat they give off, allowing police to see in complete darkness. Instead of using it to record images of the arrests, the operator of the camera zoomed in on the couple in a rooftop embrace. After watching for a period of time, the infrared scope left the couple, only to zoom back in twice more to follow their actions.

At public hearings conducted by Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields last year in connection with the Internet posting of the suicide of Paris Lane, Sgt. John Marchisotto, a 12-year NYPD veteran and member of the VIPER squad, claimed that Viper Units have used their cameras to spy on and record tenants having sex in city housing projects. And in 1998, Brooklyn-based NYPD officers were caught using their cameras’ zoom lenses to leer at women on the street.

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