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Post date: February 11 2004

Security Equipment Retailer Recalls Smoke Detector Cameras

Attorney General Spitzer today announced an agreement with a Western New York electronic security equipment retailer to recall surveillance cameras designed to look like smoke detectors.

Robert J. Crowley, the owner of Spy Outlet, agreed to recall imitation smoke detectors that had small surveillance cameras hidden inside. Spy Outlet operates retail stores in Tonawanda and Rochester and maintains a catalog business throughout the state and nation.

"A smoke detector has one purpose and that is to protect people against fires," Spitzer said. "Keeping non-working fire detectors with hidden cameras off the market protects the public from a false sense of security and a very real invasion of their privacy."

In January 2003, after noticing the "Smoke Detector" video camera for sale in a Spy Outlet store, the fire marshal for the town of Henrietta notified the retailer that the installation of non-operational smoke detectors violates the New York State Fire Code. The Fire Code provides that items such as these non-working smoke detector cameras pose a fire safety danger because they present the public with a false sense of safety.

An investigation by Spitzer’s office revealed that Spy Outlet continued to advertise "Smoke Detector" cameras as a "non-working" smoke detector in its catalog and on its website for at least five additional months. These advertisements, however, failed to indicate that such items could not be legally installed in New York State.

After being contacted by Spitzer’s office last June, Spy Outlet discontinued selling the surveillance camera smoke detectors. According to Spy Outlet’s records, it sold approximately 20 smoke detectors to New York consumers or entities between September 1, 2000 and June 2003.

In settling the case, Spy Outlet agreed to recall all non-working smoke detectors with cameras. In doing so, Spy Outlet agreed to contact the identifiable purchasers, those entities and individuals who purchased the non-working smoke detectors through catalogs, and to provide operational replacements. The agreement also required Spy Outlet to place advertisements in a Western New York newspaper notifying consumers of the recall.

Spy Outlet agreed to pay $1,500 as a civil penalty to the state.

Fake smoke detectors have presented problems in the past. The use of a video-camera smoke detector led to the enactment of "Stephanie’s Law" last year in response to an incident in which a Long Island woman was secretly videotaped by her landlord using a tiny, hidden video camera in a smoke detector above her bed. This law established criminal penalties for acts of "video voyeurism" - the use of a mechanical, digital or electronic device to capture visual images of another person in a place where that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Spitzer indicated that his office continues to investigate other retailers selling non-working smoke detector cameras.

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Bruce of the Rochester Regional Office.