A Downside to Banning Silent Cell Phone Cameras?

by on January 27, 2009 · 15 comments

Adam raises some important questions below about the legislation introduced in Congress to ban silent cell phone cameras. Like many things Congress does, I wonder if the proposed solution might end up being worse than the perceived problem.

Is cell phone camera voyeurism actually a serious problem in the U.S.? Or is this just another problem being blown out of proportion by politicians? Some actual data on the incidence of camera phone “predation” would be useful in deciding whether digital voyeurism is a matter that demands Congress’s attention. The bill’s current language offers up only the vague statement, “Congress finds that children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone.”

I also wonder why the legislation targets phones rather than silent compact cameras of all sorts. Ridding from the market all silent mobile phone cameras would just make bad guys switch to compact, silent cameras with memory cards. (That’s not to say that Congress should ban them, either).

There’s a case to be made that in some situations, it might actually be a good thing for people to have cell phones equipped with silent cameras. What about somebody who’s being assaulted, or mugged, or raped and wants to photograph their attacker but fears retaliation? Or someone who’s just witnessed a crime, unbeknownst to the perpretator, and is trying to get a snapshot of the fleeing suspect? Or a whistleblower who wants to collect evidence of illicit activity by snapping covert photos?

To be sure, these are all hypothetical, unlikely scenarios. But for all we know, incidents involving “cell phone predators” are just as unlikely. And the person with the “good” use for their silent cell phone camera is much more likely to be impacted by a ban, because the bad guys will just skirt the law by hacking their phones or buying regular cameras.

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