Watch CBSN Live

New app Meerkat prompts big privacy concerns

CBS News Legal Analysis Rikki Klieman explains the legality of SXSW's most talked about app of 2015, Meerkat, the live streaming app that you can use to stream anything
CBS News Legal Analysis Rikki Klieman explain... 07:15

If you could easily become your own live broadcast television network, you might have fun doing it, but there would still be big questions about the legal ramifications.

Well, that technology now exists and brings with it challenges being presented by Meerkat, a live-streaming app that enables users to share whatever their mobile device's cameras are pointed at with their social media followers in real time.

The app was released late last month and has taken the South By Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, by storm.

The capability Meerkat puts in the hands of users seems to have lots of potential, but what about its legal limitations -- if any?


CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman commented about any differences between what's streamed on Meerkat and a photo or video taken as normal.

"Technologically speaking, it's a simulcast," said Klieman. "And that's different than having the photo and keeping the photo. But the reality is in terms of the law, there is no difference.

"What you are doing is taking a picture; this time it's a moving picture and it's in real time and it would be treated legally the same as a photograph."

That means if someone is in a public place and someone else decides to use Meerkat to start recording him or her, and sharing it in real time, it would be legal even if what that someone is do is embarrassing.

"If someone wants to go streaming you live scratching your ear or snoring, that may be just too bad," Klieman explained. "That's why these types of apps really do alarm us, because we do have this idea that, even when we're in a public place, that somehow no one is watching, or if they're watching, they're certainly not broadcasting -- not so anymore."

But even if a user can live stream someone is legal, making money by doing so wouldn't be. Making a profit from Meerkat streams is illegal. What's more, if a website is using a live stream from Meerkat, someone being streamed has the right to ask the website to take it down.

Klieman said the legal aspects vary from state to state when it comes to sharing video of a place where someone would have an expectation of privacy -- an upskirt image, for example, or sexual activity.

So public places are fair game, but what about private places like bathrooms or bedrooms?

"Obviously what you do in a bathroom is considered private, what you do in your own bedroom is considered private," unless there is consent, said Kleiman. "So there is a distinction between the place, the part of your body and what your intention is about your privacy. But if you're out in public, anything you do is there for consumption."

In states with two-party-consent laws, it becomes more complicated. Kleiman says both parties must consent to electronic eavesdropping, giving an objector a better chance of saying his or her rights have been violated, but that still doesn't guarantee a winning case.

"It's why, again, the law has to catch up to technology," Kleiman said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.