Federal voyeurism law aimed at peeping Toms, not journalists

Privacy | Feature | January 3, 2005

    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Privacy    

Federal voyeurism law aimed at peeping Toms, not journalists

  • Reporters and photographers are not targeted by a new law banning video voyeurism on federal property.

Jan. 3, 2005 -- A new law making it a federal offense to knowingly photograph a naked or partially clad person on federal property with a camera phone or other hidden recording device only applies to those who intend to capture such private images in a situation where the subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Many similar state laws are not as specific in what types of activities are covered, and consequently can be used against journalists using undercover cameras.

The Video Voyeurism Act of 2004 makes it a crime to photograph or videotape a person in such situations without their consent. The law applies only in federal jurisdictions such as federal buildings, military bases and national parks.

The law targets photographs of a "private area of an individual," which is defined as "the naked or undergarment clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or female breast of that individual."

Under the law, an expectation of privacy can exist in public places in some contexts. A reasonable expectation exists under "circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that he or she could disrobe in privacy" or "that a private area of the individual would not be visible to the public, regardless of whether that person is in a public or private place."

The law, recently passed by Congress and signed by President Bush on Dec. 23, is geared toward stalkers and peeping Toms who use cell phones and other micro-recording devices to shoot photos that are frequently posted on "upskirting" or "downblousing" Web sites.

(S. 1301; Public Law No: 108-495) -- KM

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