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Pennsburg Looks to Outlaw “Secret” Surveillance Cameras in Borough
Written by Kelly Chandler Staff Writer
2016-01-06

        Pennsburg officials said Monday they want to be the first in the region to enact a law that would require public notification of surveillance cameras in borough businesses, namely inside restrooms. 

        Council was prompted to action by a borough resident who said he was disturbed to see cameras inside the bathroom at a borough pizzeria and sports bar.  The cameras were 'hidden in plain sight,' according to his account.  

        "A few weeks back I was at the PC Pub with a friend watching football and I go to use the restroom and I happen to look up and I do a double take.  There was a camera.  I thought, 'What is a camera doing in a public restroom?'" said resident Rich Scripture.

        Scripture said he asked the business owner and a bartender who were there and they reportedly confirmed the cameras were real and that there was one in the ladies room as well.

        "I was shocked," Scripture said.  "They said we want to see who comes in and out.  You can do that from the outside; that's what most businesses do. I said it's gotta be illegal; there's gotta be a law in the books.

        "It's not against the law, what they're doing.  Without your consent or disclosure, I can videotape you in what you consider to be a private place.  In where you would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, I can videotape you as long as I don't use that video for sexually devious purposes.  As long as I don't admit to that, you have a high hurdle to get across," Scripture said, noting he consulted local and county law enforcement in the Montgomery District Attorney's Office, as well as state officials.

        Scripture said he has concerns ranging from children being taped while undressed in the restrooms to the security of the footage if it's being streamed via internet to the owners.

        "Turns out I don't even have to notify you that I'm doing it.  I don't have to put a sign on the door that says you're under video surveillance when you walk into that bathroom… I don't even have to tell you I have those images.  That's the most disturbing thing.  I can do what I want."

        The Macoby Street resident asked officials to act on the issue, possibly outlawing surveillance cameras where there is an expectation of privacy.  He said it's a problem not just here, but across the state.

        When asked by Councilwoman Diane Stevens what could be done legally on the issue, Solicitor Chuck Garner said officials had the ability to implement an ordinance making it mandatory to notify people that they will be on camera.

        "Of what you said, sir, what's most disturbing to me is the fact that you don't know it's happening," Garner said to Scripture.  "It is a public restaurant though.  If you know there's cameras in a restaurant you can choose not to go there and dine somewhere else.  I agree that it's shocking at the very least that there's nothing that regulates that."

        "If I saw a sign at the front door of a restaurant, I wouldn't think a restroom would be covered by that.  Signage should be at the door of the restroom," noted Seminary Street resident John Renna.

        Stevens made a motion to have the solicitor draft an ordinance making the signage mandatory in borough businesses where surveillance cameras are being used in restrooms and other locations which are seemingly private.

        That move was quickly seconded simultaneously by Councilmen Fred Schutte and Cody Belmont and passed unanimously.  Council President Kris Kirkwood said a draft of the ordinance or at the very least, more information on an ordinance, should be available at upcoming meetings.

        "Thank you for bring that to our attention.  Hopefully you can bring that to a lot of people's attention," said Stevens, addressing Scripture.   

        Kirkwood said after the meeting he believes all of council is on board with putting a law of its kind on the books.

        "As expeditiously as they made the motion and voted on it, yes," said Kirkwood.  "I think it's shocking to realize that something as obvious as having cameras in bathrooms that you would consider bad is not illegal.  So the best that we can do is what we're planning to do.  At least advise the public that the cameras do exist there."

        In other news, Mayor Vicki Lightcap swore in new councilman F. Robert Seville, a former Upper Perk Police sergeant, along with returning councilmen Kirkwood and Bruce Lord.  Kirkwood was elected to serve as council president and Lord was voted in as vice president.  Seville, Lightcap and Kirkwood were appointed to serve on the Upper Perk Police Commission. 

        "I'm excited," Seville said after the meeting of starting his term on council.  "I feel good and ready to go.  As I said before my number one concern is public safety, from fire, police and ambulance, making sure those services are available to the community."   

        In other news, council agreed to table donations to PerkUp, an initiative of the Upper Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce.  Kirkwood said council neglected to formally donate to the group separate from their donation toward the wayfinding sign project.  He said simply the donation was overlooked.

        Since no donation was budgeted for 2015 or 2016, Stevens said she wanted to table any motion on the donation and have the organization come to officials if they have specific needs. 

        "I think PerkUp is very valuable," noted Lightcap.  "The chamber has been instrumental in us getting grants.  They brought all of our communities together to help all of us grow."


 

 

 

 

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