By KEN NGUYEN
The Federated University Police Officers Association, a union in which many of University of California Irvine’s (UCI) police officers are members, has filed a lawsuit on November 6 against UCI police officials for using spyware. It claims employees of the police department had been spied on with audio as well as video recording devices in the building’s offices, hallways, walls and even bathrooms.
The union accuses UC Irvine Police Chief Paul Henisey, Assistant Chief Jeff Hutchison and the UC Board of Regents of hiring Johnson Controls Inc. to install the audio/video recording devices sometime before December 2013. When accused, UCI Police officials attempted to cover up the scandal by deleting several months’ worth of recordings.
The lawsuit claims the recordings captured conversations about finances, medical treatments and history, working conditions, grievances filed with the union and internal affairs investigations. The union president, Andrew Lopez, said the union sued to “protect students, faculty, staff, the general public and (its) members at the University of California Irvine campus from nonconsensual and surreptitious audio recording of their private conversations. This is a blatant violation of the privacy rights of members of our community.” The plaintiff seeks damages and a permanent injunction against the surveillance. However, Cathy Lawhon, a spokeswoman for UC Irvine, claims the suit has no merit, and said “We deny the allegations and will vigorously defend ourselves against them.”
The right to privacy is not guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States. However, over time, courts have established some fundamental privacy rights. There are three legal bases for privacy rights: privacy torts, explicit guarantees of aspects of privacy and implicit guarantees of broader privacy rights.
UCI and University High School (UHS) students alike are concerned about this breach of privacy for the UCI Police Department as well as for the general public. Vivian Ngo (Sr.) said, “In my opinion, they should not be spying on their own employees. What kind of behavior would lead to the chief of police thinking it was necessary to install recording devices in each individual office?”