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Lawmakers OK Video Voyeurism Privacy Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives joined the Senate Tuesday in passing privacy protections against video voyeurism. The House bill makes it a crime to engage in illicit photography or "cyber peeking" on federal property.

The legislation calls for maximum fines of $100,000 with possible jail time of up to one year. Bill author Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) said the legislation is narrowly limited to federal lands to serve as a model law for states.

Similar legislation has already passed the Senate. Minor differences between the two bills are expected to be quickly resolved and the legislation sent to President Bush.

According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Internet, combined with cell phone cameras, PDAs and a host other miniature lens, has turned surreptitiously obtained video into a sport for many voyeurs.

EPIC says cyber peeking is often focused on fetish photographs taken from cameras mounted on shoe tops, labels and hats. In addition, law enforcement authorities report a steady increase of hidden cameras in bedrooms, bathrooms, public showers, locker rooms and tanning salons. From there, millions of photographs and video hit the Internet.

"For the victim, it's embarrassing and degrading to be photographed in a compromised position. It's an invasion of personal privacy," Oxley said in his floor statement.

The Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2003 (S. 1301) prohibits photography of certain parts of an individual's unclothed body or undergarments without his or her consent.

Oxley, a former FBI agent, originally introduced his measure in 2002 but the legislation originated little interest among fellow lawmakers. As cell phone cameras exploded in popularity and practices such as image alteration where the face of one person is digitally edited to appear on the naked body of another became more widespread, the 108th Congress began steadily moving the legislation to the president's desk.

In July, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation sponsored by Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) prohibiting capturing an improper, naked or near-naked image of a non-consenting person in such a way as to violate his or her privacy.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) successfully amended the bill to include "cyber-peepers" who transmit streaming video over the Internet through Web cameras and other means. The bill covers the simultaneous webcasting of images over the Internet.