"On the Net, Unseen Eyes"
NY Times :By PATRICK DI JUSTO
Published: February 24, 2005
With the proliferation of surveillance cameras in everyday life and Webcams at home computers, the ease with which unsecured cameras can be detected on the Internet has become an increasner's permission.
The Yankee Group, a market research firm, estimates that as many as 13 percent of American households have a Webcam attached to one of their computers, often sitting on top of a monitor in a living room or a bedroom.
It is illegal to gain access to a secured computer without the proper authorization, even if the computer's password is publicly known. But is it legal to look at unsecured Webcams discovered as a result of a Google search, through the back door, so to speak? "It's probably not illegal, but you never know," said Annalee Newitz, policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group. "That would be the court case - would a reasonable person consider these cameras to be public?"
Jennifer Stisa Granick, executive director of the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society, agrees that it is a gray area. "The law states you have to know that you're not authorized to look at this information," she said. "But if it's available through Google, most people would reasonably think that it was all right. But what if a person didn't realize that their Webcam image was going out over the Internet? Do they have an expectation of privacy?"