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Smile, You’re on Candid CamPhone

PORN VALLEY, CA – Forget about Big Brother recording your every public move with surveillance cameras.

Some ordinary person with a camera-equipped cell phone could be surreptitiously photographing your unguarded behavior right now – and sending it straight to the Internet.

In health clubs, strip bars and courtrooms across America – and even in bookstores and department-store fitting rooms in some Asian countries – wireless voyeurs and pranksters are prompting restrictions on camphone use, or even outright bans.

The San Francisco-based 24 Hour Fitness has limited camphone use to lobbies and stairwells; and The Wellbridge Health and Fitness Center, a Boston-area chain, like the Chicago-based Bally Total Fitness, prohibits their use.

U.S. District Court bars film cameras from its proceedings, although cell phones are allowed.

At Louisville-area strip clubs such as Déjà vu, photo-phone offenders are ejected after a warning, said co-manager Tim Smitz: “It happens once every couple of weeks, usually younger guys who think it’s a harmless, souvenir-of-the-night type thing, like getting their picture taken at Kentucky Kingdom with the women as props. They’re very obvious about it, do it while sitting at the tip rail where everybody can see. You have to hold that phone up, because it’s not the greatest camera.

“But the dancers get very offended. Girls who work in these facilities have other jobs, or they’re going to school, and they don’t want people to know they’re dancing. They consider it an invasion of their privacy.”

That may be the case, and strip clubs ban other cameras.

But legal experts say people lose some privacy rights by being in public, that the immediacy of phone pictures doesn’t differentiate them from regular snapshots, and that pictures have to be offensive or damage a person’s reputation to invade their privacy.

“You may be able to object if somebody takes a picture of you in the locker room taking a shower and puts that on the Internet,” said Russell Weaver, a law professor at the University of Louisville. “Photos up a woman’s skirt, public disclosure of indecent or embarrassing images are aspects of the tort of privacy. If somebody uses a camera-phone through the window of your house, I think the courts might feel that is an issue of privacy.

In Japan, which has had photo phones for years, people have gone to jail for photographing up women’s skirts. And the phenomenon called “digital shoplifting” was pioneered by Japanese women browsing bookstores and e-mailing pictures of copyrighted magazine material while chatting with girlfriends about the latest fashion and hairstyles.

Nude pictures of unsuspecting South Korean victims have appeared on the Internet, and major companies like Samsung have banned camphones from their premises, fearing corporate espionage. Consumer-protection rules are being drafted by the South Korean government and, starting in 2004, camphones made there will be required to emit a warning sound when pictures are being taken.

Camphones hit the U.S. scene in 2002, and, as of now, about 7 million of the 72 million cell phones shipped to America have cameras, reports PC World magazine, which estimates that by 2007, there will be 110 million cell phones, nearly half of them with cameras.

Newer models are capable of recording 15- to 30-second video clips, and Cellular News reported that 2004 sales of camera phones in the United States could exceed that of digital and film cameras combined.

But the more popular camera phones become, the greater the apprehension that digital Peeping Tom-ism could spread.

Smitz of Déjà vu said, “Our policy is basically to protect our dancers and our clients. It’s easy to pick up surroundings with a camera phone, and some of our customers don’t want it to be known they come in.

“You could have politicians, clergymen – anybody – sitting in here and get caught in a crossfire. It could be damaging to their reputation.”
 

 

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