Should Associations Ban Google Glass in Common Areas?

Loura K. Sanchez | Wednesday, March 19, 2014 | Community Associations Miscellaneous

Just when you were getting used to your iPhones, it is time to get ready for the next wave.  Smart phones may soon be replaced with smart glasses.  Google Glass allows the user to view images called up in the glass through voice activation or by touching the rims of the glasses.  The product has already hit the market with thousands of “explorers.”  Google Glass like most smart phones also allows the user to take and share photographs and video recordings.  However, unlike most smart phones, the user taking the video or photographs will not be obvious.  Instead of pointing and clicking, Google Glass users can take photographs and video surreptiously, James Bond style.  Actually, other companies are in the process of designing “smart contact lenses."

You may be asking why your association even cares about this new technology.  Google Glass concerns are timely in light of cases across the country where some courts have ruled that taking photos of “private parts” while displayed in public locations (like a subway) is not illegal, because it did not constitute a “secret videotape of someone who was nude or partially nude."  While the legislatures may address the issues, the Google Glass technology raises privacy and safety concerns in general as it makes it easier for people to surreptitiously video and photograph others.

While Google Glass has not yet been released for public consumption, there are a few thousand “testers” or “explorers” using the product. The web is a buzz with a few fights or confrontations that have broken out in bars and cafes as a result.  In response, some west coast bars and cafes (located mainly in Seattle and California, known as high tech areas) have banned the product.  Some businesses, including law firms are following suit.  Business leaders, including notoriously conservative lawyers and accountants are concerned about having confidential or sensitive documents surreptitiously photographed.  Police, Judges and District Attorneys are concerned for witness intimidation and jury tampering concerns.

This begs the question: should condominiums follow suit and ban Google Glass or smart glasses from common areas?  Do all residents want themselves or their children being secretly photographed or videotaped in the common areas; say, for example the gym or the pool?  Do Board Members or Association Managers want the board meetings secretly taped or photographed? It’s one thing if permission is given or its obvious.  Secret recordings are another matter entirely.  

If condominiums want to ban Google Glass or smart glasses from the common areas, condominium boards should be able to do so by enacting a rule.  Such a rule would likely withstand scrutiny as it is done to protect legitimate privacy and safety interests of unit owners.  For more information on such a rule contact one of our attorneys. 

Thank you to Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks, P.C. for their original article on the issue and my son for being an “explorer.”

Comments

Loura: Thanks to you and Steve Marcus for raising the issue. I think the larger context is the role of technology at Board and Committee Meetings, i.e. Should videos of Board Meetings be permitted? Should there be a requirement that all Mobile Phones be turned off or put on "Airplane Mode"? Should there be a Privacy Policy that extends more generally to any activity in the common area that involves association matters? To make matters more vexing: Will any limitations on the use of technology adversely impact residents with disabilities. I vote for you and Steve to help us get "correct" on these matters!

In door area bans make some sense, outdoor areas do not. If someone wants to make these videos or photographs, there are many ways to do so without Google Glass. Let us not make proactive rules that could end up in a lot of litigation, headache and trouble. Let us see if local government adopts rules and regs that will cover this subject. Making rules such as this give credibility to those that call HOA Boards Nazis. I am a HOA Board member.

As a practical matter, how would such a rule be enforced? Are these glasses easily detectable? Would there actually be people who would notice them and report them? Privacy concerns are always an issue. While the Constitution contains no provision guaranteeing privacy, there are provisions that prohibit public intrusion into private affairs. Accordingly, my opinion is that any recording of anyone, made without that person's expressed permission, should not be legal. Nonetheless, laws do not guarantee that the behavior will not occur, and therein lies the problem. I know nothing about these glasses, and maybe Adam can enlighten us, but this seems like dangerous technology to me. Of course, there are already devices that record without being detected. We see then on TV all the time. But the ramifications in our society are boggling, as abuses are endless. Any meeting of any board or organization is subject, and while the "official minutes" are supposed to be the ultimate record of what transpired and what actions were taken, the chance of recording an off-the-cuff remark and using it exists. People cannot simply be expected to control themselves at all times, especially in heated discussions. And what about schools? Any remark, made by a teacher, could be subject to misuse, especially if taken out of context. And the possibility of abuse in the workplace is rampant. I suppose the day is coming when all activity, public or private, will be subject to live broadcast over the Internet, without the knowledge of the participants, and, while the video may later be ordered taken down, we all know that, once something is "out there," it's in the public domain forever. Bells cannot be unrung. I am one who does not want to live in such a society. Already, we've had examples of how wrong this can be. Remember the case of the guy whose sexual encounter was recorded by his "buddies" and broadcast for all to see? The poor guy was basically shamed to death, and I can easily see this as the result of surrepticious recordings. Should legal sexual activities really be the subject of public viewing? Unfortunately, intrusion into all of our daily activities is not far off, especially in these days of the ramped-up effort by The New World Order to invade, pervade and control every aspect of our lives. Our electronic and telecommunicative activities are already subject to too-much oversight. Makes me glad I don't have too-much time left on this planet at this time.

The glasses are easy to spot if one is aware of them and what they look like. Each pair has a small “glass” screen in the upper right corner of the frame. The screen is about ½” x 1”. As with any rule, enforcement is the key. Like prohibiting video and/or audio taping of meetings, the owner would be asked to leave if they are doing so and it is known. If the owner fails to do so, the meeting would be adjourned and reconvened at a later date and time. The ultimate enforcement would be a court order prohibiting the owner from attending the meeting wearing Google Glasses.

Let's also remember that the sword has two edges. It's trivially easy to secretly video / audio record a board meeting without Glass. Here's a pen which can do it: http://bit.ly/1mhI6Fy. Same deal with the gym or locker-room and that shouldn't be why Glass is banned. There are some positive reasons for using Glass. One such use is covenant enforcement. Imagine being able to look at a house as you drive by and Glass pulls up a picture of what the house looked like last inspection. See differences, nod your head, a pic gets taken, uploaded, and enforcement letters generated automatically. In the non HOA realm there was a story I read just the other day where an emergency room in Boston equipped the doctors with Glass. Before entering a room, the doctor would look at a QR code near the door and all the relevant patient information (vitals, medicines, treatment plans, etc) was called up into their field of view. They could then talk to the patient / treat them without having to break eye-contact or go over to the computer to lookup relevant information.

My understanding is that while the devices are somewhat easy to identify, there is no way to tell if they are recording. The glasses may also be used by the wearer as normal eye glasses are, so banning them altogether would prevent the wearer from seeing clearly. There already seems to be plenty of other ways to secretly record. So I like the advice to not rush into making new rules and wait and see how various governments handle it. No need for HOAs to be in the forefront in legislating them.

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