Privacy vs. the High-Tech Gizmo


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Jeff White
February 13, 2004, 05:52 PM
I'm comforted to know that no matter what the problem, our protective lawmakers are right on top of it.....I propose a law at both the state and federal level that would forbid a legislature from acting on anything until it's constitionally mandated business like budgets was completed....

Jeff

Privacy vs. the high-tech gizmo
By Brian Wallheimer
Post-Dispatch Springfield Bureau
02/12/2004

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Advances in technology - particularly cell phones that can take a picture, for instance, in a locker room or a bathroom - have outstripped Illinois privacy laws, some state legislators say.

One legislator has proposed banning cell phones in public restrooms, fitness clubs and day-care centers. Another bill would forbid videotaping in movie theaters.

And a third would outlaw photographing or videotaping a family member naked without their permission. "The law never keeps up with technology, because laws are slow to come into existence and technology is fast," said Welch Everman, an English professor at the University of Maine who teaches a class on how technology influences popular culture.

State Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, wants to forbid photographing or videotaping a family member naked in their home without the family member's knowledge after he learned about a man in Massachusetts who had been secretly filming his 24-year-old daughter naked for years. The state had no law covering the act and the man could not be charged with a crime.

"We have to keep up. People are using technology for their own advantage for criminal uses," Silverstein said. "It's sick."

He said he planned to modify the bill so that it would not be illegal for a parent to film their small children, for instance, frolicking in a bathtub.

Everman, who is also an expert on science fiction, said the story was typical of the message that science fiction has been sending for years.

"There's a good reason for security cameras. There's a good reason for global tracking. But science fiction almost always tells us this technology will be abused," Everman said. "Somebody almost always finds a way to abuse it."

Many new wireless phones are equipped with cameras, something that state Rep. Kathleen Ryg, D-Vernon Hills, said can lower the expectation of privacy in places such as locker rooms. Ryg's bill would outlaw the use of cameras and cell phones in public restrooms, fitness centers and day-care facilities.

"These are places people have an expectation of privacy," Ryg said. "My expectation is that this will raise awareness to the point that if I'm in a park district fitness club I won't have to think 'Oh, my God, I hope they're not taking a picture of me.'"

Lawmakers in Iowa and Colorado are considering similar measures.

Some YMCAs and gym clubs around the country have begun asking members to keep camera phones in their cars.

And a strip club in Kansas City, Bazooka's Showgirls, is blunt.

A sign states: "Fair warning - digital video, picture cell phones will be confiscated and crushed with our sledgehammer."

Owner Dick Snow says he is respecting his employees' wishes. "Have I smashed any phones with a sledgehammer?" he asked with a chuckle. "No. We just tell them to put them away."

Everman said he didn't know why having a camera in a phone was necessary, but he understood why people wanted them.

"Our history of technology tells us that if we can make something, we will," Everman said. "It hardly seems like you need that technology, but we're going to have it anyway."

Small cameras also cause concern for the film industry, which worries that the technology can be used to get movies on the Internet before they are released. The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that the U.S. film industry loses more than $3 billion each year to piracy.

State Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, introduced a bill that would make it a felony to record a movie while in a theater.

"Now they have these minicameras that fit in your pocket and you just walk in," Cullerton said.

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said privacy was important, but he questioned how involved government should be in regulating where a person could or couldn't use a cell phone.

Yohnka agreed that taking pictures of people when they expected a degree of privacy was wrong but said that focusing on such narrow topics would not account for future technologies and the issues they would create.

"If one just thinks of how it has changed in the last 10 years, think of how it's going to change in the next 10 years," Yohnka said. "What it probably calls for is a careful, thoughtful analysis for all these technologies."

Silverstein's bill is SB2149, Ryg's bill is HB4618 and Cullorton's bill is SB2134.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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