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Assembly Panel Approves Benson, Danielsen & Johnson Bill to Crack Down on Illegal Monitoring of Innocent Individuals

An Assembly panel on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Joe Danielsen and Gordon Johnson to protect innocent, unsuspecting individuals from being monitored through technological means.

“We all know the technological capacity to monitor an individual’s activity exists today in ways that were unfathomable just ten years ago,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This legislation is designed to protect innocent individuals from being secretly monitored or eavesdropped on through computer programs, cellular phones or other mobile devices unbeknownst to them.”

The bill (A-3858) seeks to limit an individual’s lawful authority to monitor others through the use of computer programs or other devices installed on cellular phones or other wireless mobile devices. It would apply to monitoring based on location tracking as well as the monitoring of communications (including, inter alia, phone conversations, emails, and text messages).

“With technology advancing at a lighting pace these days, many people can’t even conceive of the methods that are available to monitor their locations and activities,” said Danielsen (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “It’s important that we protect innocent, law abiding citizens from becoming victims of technologically savvy predators.”

“While technology has greatly enhanced the ability of law enforcement to monitor terrorist activity and protect the public’s safety, there are far too many programs available publicly that would enable innocent civilians to be eavesdropped on,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “This bill sends a message that this type of invasion of privacy will not be tolerated.”

The bill would make the installation and use of such programs an unlawful form of eavesdropping under the “New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act,” unless the subscriber of the cellular phone or other device gave prior consent to the installation. Additionally, with respect to the use of programs to monitor communications, the bill would require that all parties to a communication give prior consent to the communication being intercepted by the program, and thus be made aware that the communication would be subject to monitoring by some other individual.

A violation of the bill would be graded as a crime of the third degree, which is typically punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. A violation would also subject the wrongdoer to a civil cause of action, being liable for: any actual damages to an aggrieved party (but not less than liquidated damages computed at the rate of $100 a day for each day of violation, or $1,000, whichever is greater); punitive damages; and reasonable attorney’s fees and other litigation costs.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.