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Video Voyeurism a Felony in Illinois as of January 1

Illinois- A lawyer in Wheaton hid his cameras in a roll of toilet paper and a basket of potpourri in the women’s restroom.

A bar owner in Downstate Chatsworth concealed his in a bathroom fan and a laundry basket.

And in East Dundee a podiatrist stands accused of tucking a camera underneath an examination table so he could watch patients undress.

Though authorities charged the three men with other felonies in connection with these acts, the actual videotapings were only misdemeanors. Illinois statutes, it seems, are as outdated as Super 8 film.

But a new state law going into effect Jan. 1 fast-forwards the criminal code into the 21st Century by making it a felony to record or transmit images of an adult in a restroom, tanning bed, tanning salon, locker room, changing room or hotel room without permission. If convicted, violators could face up to 3 years in prison.

“We weren’t keeping up with the technology,” said state Rep. Sidney Mathias (R-Buffalo Grove), who sponsored the bill in the House. “Because it moves so fast, it’s hard to stay ahead of it.”

The new law acknowledges something electronics manufacturers realized long ago: With an estimated 5 million surveillance recorders in use nationwide today, hidden cameras are no longer just the toys of amateur filmmakers hoping to appear on goofy TV shows hosted by Allen Funt or the dad from “Full House.” In addition to helping secure homes, streets and businesses, they have also become a popular tool for modern-day peeping Toms.

Video voyeurism is such a new, evolving crime that the National Center for the Victims of Crime has no statistics available. And Illinois State Police do not track the crime’s prevalence either.

According to court records, however, Illinois residents have been recorded without their consent in bathrooms, tanning beds and even doctor’s offices in recent years. One of the most recent cases involved East Dundee foot doctor Steven P. Loheide, who was arrested in October after police say one of his employees found a videotape of herself undressing in an examination room.

Authorities say they later searched the medical office and discovered a small camera hidden on an exam table. Loheide, who has pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to appear in court next month.

“I just did not realize the technology was so readily accessible,” said state Sen. Randall Hultgren (R-Winfield), who wrote the legislation. “I wouldn’t think the average person would have access to that type of technology.”

Hultgren proposed changing the law following last year’s arrest of a Wheaton lawyer who recorded a co-worker in the women’s restroom. Authorities say Jerald M. Mangan, then 48, transmitted images from the law firm’s bathroom to his computer. One camera was hidden in a roll of toilet paper, while another was tucked into small basket of potpourri, prosecutors said.

Mangan pleaded guilty to a felony charge of eavesdropping and a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized videotaping in May 2006. He was sentenced to 2 years’ probation and is no longer allowed to practice law.

Under the antiquated criminal code, listening to the audio on the recording was felony, a more serious charge that can lead to prison and exclusion from some lines of work. But ogling the actual images of his unsuspecting co-worker in the bathroom was just a misdemeanor.

“That’s the law not keeping up with technology,” said Chris Boylan, vice president of American Innovations, a spy gear company in Spring Valley, N.Y. “The level of awareness of these types of crimes has increased to the point where lawmakers have to address it.”

At least 19 states, including Indiana, currently classify video voyeurism as a felony, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. At least four others have bills pending.

Experts say anecdotal evidence suggests that video voyeurism has increased dramatically in recent years because of the ease in which the devices can be hidden. Many cameras are now wireless, so they no longer sport the wires that made recorders easier to spot less than a decade ago. The images now can be transmitted directly to computers or recorded on drives that can be plugged directly into a TV or USB port.

Today’s covert cameras are so tiny, they can record through an opening the size of a pinhead. Using a creative technology that would make James Bond and his trusted Q jealous, the recorders come disguised in books, clock radios, wall hangings, ceiling sprinkler heads and eyeglass cases, among other items.

“The enclosures are almost as numerous as the imagination,” Boylan said. “They’re very difficult to detect, even for somebody who knows what they are looking for.”

A central Illinois bar patron knew what he was looking for when he entered the women’s restroom at a Chatsworth tavern in July 2006. The man, who said he was using the restroom because the lock on the men’s door did not work, testified that he often inspects bathrooms for hidden cameras or other recording devices.

He was drawn to an overheard light fixture because the attached fan was not working, he said. He spotted the camera and pulled it down immediately. He testified he reported his discovery to police later that day.

The Livingston County Sheriff’s Department searched the premises and found video equipment and tapes in an apartment next to the bar. The establishment’s owner, William Lutson, cooperated with authorities, who said a second camera was hidden in a laundry basket near a tanning bed in the man’s apartment.

In March, Lutson was convicted of two felonies — both for recordings involving minors, an act that already carries the stiffer charge — and 10 misdemeanors for taping the same number of women. He was sentenced to 6 months in jail and fined $10,000.

At the trial, his 12 victims, including a teenage girl who had paid him $2 to use his home tanning bed before prom, testified to being humiliated and embarrassed by the tapes. Hidden cameras can be more psychologically damaging to victims than old-fashioned peeping Toms because there is a permanent record of the offense, said Ilse Knecht, the National Center for Victims of Crime’s deputy director of public policy.

In addition to grappling with the invasion of privacy, victims often worry about the dissemination of the pictures, Knecht said. Many fear the images being spread on the Internet.

“The images have a life of their own,” she said. “If images exist, the crime could be happening a million times over.”

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