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Congress approves criminal "video voyeurism" law

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Privacy    

Congress approves criminal “video voyeurism” law

  • Both houses of Congress have passed federal criminal penalties for knowingly photographing without consent a naked or underwear-clad person’s “private area” when the person reasonably expects privacy.

Sep. 23, 2004 — Knowingly photographing a naked or underwear-clad person’s “private area” without consent when the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy could soon be a federal offense.

Fines of up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison could be imposed under the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004, passed Tuesday by the U.S. House. The Senate passed a similar version of the bill last year. The two versions are expected to be quickly reconciled and signed by President George W. Bush.

“Theoretically, you never want to see a criminal penalty imposed upon speech, but practically I believe this will have little effect on the mainstream media,” said Kevin M. Goldberg, attorney for the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

The bill defines “private area” as “the naked or undergarment clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or female breast.”

To establish a violation, prosecutors would have to prove an intent to photograph or otherwise “capture” an image without the person’s consent, and that the photographer knew that the person had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The violation also would have to occur on federal property.

Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) originally introduced the legislation in 2002, but it received little attention. It was introduced in the Senate in June 2003 by Sen. Michael DeWine (R-Ohio) and co-sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). It passed the Senate unanimously in September, but then spent nearly a year in House committees.

(S. 1301) GP

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