New Jersey Outlaws Video Voyeurism

Cory Kincaid
NEW JERSEY – As video and cell cam voyeurism become a popular pastime among curious, technology-savvy users, the legalities surrounding capturing the image of someone without consent is becoming a hot topic among nationwide lawmakers. Especially when that image shows up on a porn site.

In incidents involving voyeurism in bathrooms, dressing rooms, locker rooms, showers, or just on the street where bystanders can be captured unaware, penalties for the average 21st Century peeping Tom are still fairly minimal and many people claiming to be victims of technology-enhanced voyeurism are calling for stiffer penalties and protection.

New Jersey is the latest state to step forward and outlaw clandestine videotaping by reversing a current law that makes secret videotaping nothing more punishable than a trespassing violation.

But the new law, passed this week, makes a huge leap forward in terms of putting a halt to video voyeurism that in some cases ends up on the Internet.

Lawmakers agreed on Tuesday to make video voyeurism a third degree crime. According to Infinity Broadcasting, selling, publishing, and distributing videotape made without permission can carry a possible sentence of up to five years in prison and $15,000 in fines.

The New Jersey State Senate voted unanimously to approve the bill, as did the New Jersey Assembly. The state's governor is currently reviewing the bill.

New York is already one step ahead of New Jersey. Video voyeurism in the Big Apple can land a peeping Tom or misinformed porn entrepreneur in jail for up to seven years.

A report from Infinity Broadcasting states that the New York law was inspired in August of this year after a landlord hid a video camera in his tenant's apartment above her bed for months on end. The landlord was sentenced at the time to three years probation.

The issue of voyeurism goes beyond videotaping laws as cell phones with attachable cameras or embedded digital camera functionality are opening the floodgates to invasion of privacy issues and copyright infringement when it comes to the photographing of artwork or movies that are then uploaded onto the Internet. Not to mention taking hidden shots of naked locker room bodies and posting them for the world to see.

In June of this year, Washington State made photographing or videotaping up a person's skirt a felony and worthy of a year in jail after a man in a supermarket used his cell cam to photograph a woman's underwear while she shopped for groceries with her infant child.

The man was charged with a felony under state law and was released on $25,000 bail.

According to Wired, cell phones with camera capability are prohibited in gym locker rooms in Hong Kong, and public places that typically disallow the use of cameras are now facing a new set of challenges, especially as sales for cell phones with digital camera capabilities are on the rise by 65 percent. Most of that sales activity is being seen in Asia and Western Europe, with the U.S. trailing behind.

By the end of 2003, worldwide sales of cell phone cameras are expected to be between 40 million and 65 million.

Wired added that while cell cam pictures appear blurry on the low-resolution screen of a phone, they can appear vivid over the Internet, and there is rising concerns over the potential for increased voyeurism with these small, nearly undetectable devices.

"The clandestine camera is a hornet's nest for potential social issues," Seamus McAteer, an analyst for Zelos Group, told Wired.