Slowly but surely, school leaders nationwide have begun drafting policies to address the privacy concerns raised by camera cell phones, which some people have used for nefarious purposes–such as taking pictures beneath women’s skirts and posting them on the internet. Now, federal lawmakers want to make taking such surreptitious photos and other illicit uses of video technology a federal crime punishable by up to a year in jail.

“No one should have to go through the embarrassment of being secretly taped by an electronic Peeping Tom, or seeing those pictures turn up on the internet,” said Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, a former FBI agent who is an advocate for the bill.

Although there are no official studies on the intrusive use of camera phones, lawmakers and anti-crime advocates say “video voyeurism” is a serious crime that deserves a serious response by the government.

Simple voyeurism–secretly photographing or videotaping someone in a compromising position or in a private place–already is against the law in most states. But the proliferation of tiny cellular telephones that can take pictures silently has facilitated the taking of illicit photos in public places, too, such as grocery stores, sidewalks, restaurants, and schools. (See “Camera phones call up privacy fears for schools,”

In December, a Sammamish, Wash., man pleaded innocent to a charge of voyeurism after being accused of using a cellular telephone camera to take photographs up a woman’s skirt. Jack Le Vu, 20, was released on $25,000 bail.

A witness told investigators the man pretended to scan a grocery store’s shelves as he followed a 26-year-old woman in a supermarket. He periodically crouched with his camera phone extended beneath her skirt and snapped photos.

“Discovering you’ve been a victim of video voyeurism puts you in fear and unrelenting anxiety, and you are suspicious then everywhere you go,” said Susan Howley, public policy director at the National Center for Victims of Crime.

Oxley said he’s heard numerous stories “about how individual privacy has been violated in locker rooms, dressing rooms, and even homes.” And internet surfers can easily find web sites with camera phone pictures of those individuals posted for the world to see.

Even when a person finds out about a Peeping Tom, the hodgepodge of laws around the nation sometimes let criminal cases avoid prosecution. “Victims will go to the police and be told that ‘We’d love to arrest this person, but it’s not technically against the law,'” Howley said.

Currently, there is no federal law protecting citizens from secret and intrusive videotaping in public places, Oxley said, and some prosecutors have had difficulty making cases.

“That’s why we wanted to make a specific crime so there would be no misunderstanding which law applies,” he said. “This is a case where the law is trying to catch up with the technology–or the misuse of technology.”

The bill before Congress 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.”

A person convicted under the law could face a fine and as much as a year in jail.

The bill passed the Senate by voice vote without dissent. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to consider it before the August recess.

The bill is S.1301


House Judiciary Committee, a web log that follows camera phone trends

Camphone used to cheat on exam
From eSchool News wire service reports
May 14, 2004
Cheating has gone high tech at Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas, Calif., and administrators have the pictures to prove it.

School officials banned cellular telephone use after a student was caught using a camera phone to photograph an exam and trying to send it to a friend.

“All we are doing is stepping up the enforcement level, because of the student’s flagrant violations,” Principal Joe Rice said May 10.

Cheating by using camera phones and text messaging has become a nationwide concern.

Last year, six University of Maryland students admitted cheating on an accounting exam by using their phones to send information to one another via text messaging. (See “Students dial up trouble in new twist to cheating,”

The Salinas Union High School District has had a ban on “electronic signaling devices” since April 2003 but has let individual schools decide how to enforce it.

A teacher caught the student who took the photograph of a test before he was able to transmit the image, Rice said.