Will Making Cameras “Click” Again Stop Digital Voyeurism?

by on January 27, 2009 · 21 comments

I’m intrigued by this new bill that Rep. Peter King has introduced to prevent video voyeurism. H.R. 414, the “Camera Phone Predator Alert Act” finds that “children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone.”  To remedy this problem, King’s “Phone Predator Alert” bill would require that:

any mobile phone containing a digital camera that is manufactured for sale in the United States shall sound a tone or other sound audible within a reasonable radius of the phone whenever a photograph is taken with the camera in such phone. A mobile phone manufactured after such date shall not be equipped with a means of disabling or silencing such tone or sound.

In other words, cameras would have to get noisy again!  Old timers will recall the days when our cameras were noisier than a box of rocks. Today’s digital cameras and camera phones, by contrast, are increasingly silent, but that also opens up the door to potential abuse by some creeps out there. While I don’t believe there’s evidence pointing to a national epidemic of digital voyeurism, there’s no doubt that some people — including many youngsters — are having their privacy invaded in this fashion.

I find King’s solution at once to be both ingenious and futile. It’s ingenious in that, if we could truly force it upon everyone, it might actually go along way towards solving this problem. The noisy camera would again act as the prime deterrent to such an act.

It’s futile, however, in that the real bad guys would likely get around the law pretty quickly. After all, if they are really determined to try to surreptitiously snap some shots in a locker room or elsewhere, it’s likely that they’ll quickly find a way to hack the device and disable the noise-maker. (By the way, exactly how loud do will our phones need to be to comply with the law?) Moreover, the market for old, unregulated phones would grow longer and a black market of illegal devices would likely spring up, too. (However, Wired reports that such a law is already in place in Japan, so it would be interesting to see how it is working out there.)

That being said, I don’t really have a better solution than Rep. King.  There are already laws on the books dealing with invasion of privacy that can be tapped to deal with this problem, but there are obvious problems going that route in terms of time and expense. The damage is already done once the photo is snapped. And usually you can’t find the creep who originally took the shot after it has been around the Internet a zillion times.

Self-regulation in semi-public spaces might help. My gym has clearly posted policies about where mobile devices can be used and makes it clear they are not to be used in the locker rooms. That’s a good first step that others should follow to help protect the privacy of people in areas where they are likely to be disrobing.  And schools can do the same thing for their locker rooms. Of course, that’s still going to be difficult to enforce. There’s just no easy solution here.

[Further discussion over at Washington Watch.com]

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