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Smile, You're Probably on 
Candid Camera!
Why New Legislation is Being Aimed at Photographers

Casio's new A5406CA cameraphone is 3.2 megapixels and takes miniSD cards. Sharp has a 2.0 megapixel phone with a 2x zoom see the News Page for more info. Cameraphones are no longer a joke.

All of us "serious photographers" laughed at camera phones when they first came out. They're low res with lousy plastic lenses that aren't particularly sharp. Who would want a camera phone when they could have a real digital camera?

The answer so far is about 7 million Americans and Nokia expects to sell 50 million camera phones worldwide in 2004. That's a lot of camera phones. 

As a matter of fact that's more camera phone sales than than digital camera sales. Evidently someone out there likes these devices.

Unfortunately there are individuals who are using camera phones in compromising ways. The problem with camera phones is that, unlike a camera, you never know when someone is taking a photo.

Camera phones are being used to snap photos of people's credit cards while paying for items in stores. They're being used to take illicit photos in health club locker rooms. And as sick as it sounds there are enough people using camera phones to take photos up women's skirts on escalators and stairways that the name "upskirting" has been appropriated from the perverts whose previous weapon of choice was video cameras. There are even Web sites dedicated to these kinds of shots.

Now the U.S. Congress is stepping in. They're considering legislation that makes the commission of any crime using photo or video technology a federal crime punishable by up to a year in jail.

But is this legislation necessary? To date no studies have been done to determine how widespread these crimes are. And every state already has laws on the books to deal with voyeurism - secretly photographing or videotaping someone when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. So some lawmakers are suggesting a Federal law oversteps its bounds and treads squarely on state's rights.

But proponents of the bill insist current laws do little to protect many victims and have proven poor tools for prosecutors. Many specifically cover photographing or videotaping someone in a place where "they have a reasonable expectation of privacy." In several cases courts have ruled that while the act may be heinous a woman on an escalator has "no reasonable expectation of privacy" because she is in a public place. 

Most of these laws were written when both camcorders and cameras were large and bulky. Proponents of the bill say Congress is simply trying to standardize and update a confusing swamp of conflicting laws that are no longer in sync with today's technology.

The bill would make it illegal to videotape, photograph, film, broadcast or record a naked person or someone in underwear anyplace where a "reasonable person would believe that he or she could disrobe in privacy."

The legislation also would make it illegal to sneak photos of a person's "private parts" when "their private parts would not be visible to the public, regardless of whether that person is in a public or private area."

The wording of the bill, S.1301 (S.1301.RH in the house), is surprisingly straightforward, and passed the Senate by voice vote without dissent. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to consider it before the August recess.

The question is whether you agree with our Congressman that a federal law is necessary to control this type of behavior? What unintentional effects might there be on legitimate photographers? How about photographers whose work pushes boundaries? Could photographers find themselves in court for possessing images that merely appear voyeuristic even though they have a proper, signed model release? 

Will the law be applied in ways it's authors never expected, thus running into that most important of laws: The Law of Unintended Consequences.

Is there opportunity for this law to be abused by overzealous prosecutors as has been the case with grandmothers charged with child pornography for taking pictures of their grandchildren in the tub?

And finally are these laws already outdated before they're passed? Video cameras can be made so small as to be hidden in almost any household device. Digital still cameras can be made so small as to fit into a pair of eyeglasses. We're videotaped in every retail store we walk into. 

In today's world is there really any such thing as "a reasonable expectation of privacy" anywhere outside of your own home? And even thenů



Below is a sample of reader's replies:

  • Name: Mike


I get worried any time the government is going to dictate what photographers can and can't take pictures of - even when the intent is good.


  • Name: Stanley Beck


I remember seeing, in the 1950's and 1960's, these tiny micro "spy" cameras for sale. They were about the size of a matchbox, and used 8mm film.

The only thing that has really changed is the medium and the proliferation of computers and Internet access.

Human behavior has not changed, and probably never will.

  • Name: Jim McGee


Stanley has a good point. I'd forgotten about those little Minox spy cameras. This is a 1950's version, and believe it or not this camera is still available from Minox ( They also make mini night scopes that can fit in the palm of your hand and a mini digital called the DD100 that is smaller than a cell phone.

He's also absolutely right when he says "Human behavior has not changed, and probably never will."

  • Name: Evan


I'm always surprised at how many people are opposed to laws that simply ask you to behave rationally and normally.

Don't use your camera in a bad way and thsi law shouldn;'t concern you. Taking pictures, even in a studio, that mimic illeagal behavior is wrong and we all know it.

Behave yourself and you have no reason to fear ANY law.



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