Nevada Senate panel considers barring use of hidden cameras

Tuesday, March 16, 1999

A bill currently before Nevada's Senate Judiciary Committee would prohibit the use of hidden cameras in the state except under very limited circumstances. Some press advocates fear such measures could chill investigative reporting and newsgathering.

Introduced on Jan. 26, Senate Bill 34 provides that “it is unlawful for a person knowingly to photograph, videotape or otherwise film another person using a device that is purposely concealed from the view of the person being photographed, videotaped or otherwise filmed.”

It would also prohibit use of a hidden camera when the device is disguised to avoid detection by the person being photographed or videotaped.

The bill would not apply when a person consents to being filmed, when the filming is done to further a criminal investigation or when the filming is done for security reasons.

A violation of the bill would constitute a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine.

The full judiciary committee held a hearing on the bill on Feb. 8 and referred it to a subcommittee, which debated the measure on March 5.

According to Brant Houston, executive director for Investigative Reporters and Editors, a hidden camera can be an essential tool for newsgathering.

“There is no question that hidden cameras have been used for compelling stories that serve the public interest,” Houston said. “Sometimes stories are so outrageous that one could not believe them unless one saw it.

“The judicious use of hidden cameras is a worthwhile tool for investigative reporting when other techniques would fail to get the story or not get the story as effectively,” he said.

Free-speech expert Paul McMasters, First Amendment ombudsman for The Freedom Forum, said the legislation could very well infringe on the press' right to gather the news.

“Surely the sponsor of this legislation is aware that it will seriously erode the ability of journalists to gather important news about crime and corruption,” he said.

“This bill is an assault on the First Amendment rights of Nevada citizens under the guise of protecting their privacy,” McMasters said.

A call placed to the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Bernice Mathews, was not returned.

The judiciary committee has not yet scheduled another hearing on the bill.