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Congress Focuses on Video Voyeurism

A bill circulating through Congress seeks to combat so-called ''upskirt'' photos and other types of voyeurism spurred on by cell phones and PDAs with cameras.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to take up legislation banning surreptitious video voyeurism after it returns from a May 24-31 Memorial Day break. The legislation would increase personal privacy by prohibiting photography of certain parts of an individual's unclothed body or undergarments without his or her consent.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the legislation that makes video voyeurism a crime on federal property such as national parks, public buildings and courthouses. Violators of the proposed bill will be subject to a fine, up to one year in prison or both. The Senate has already approved a similar bill.

According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), video voyeurism is also known as "cyber peeking" and is often focused on fetish photographs such as images of women's underwear taken from cameras mounted to a voyeur's shoe, down-the-blouse photographs and the alteration of images where the face of one person is digitally edited to appear on the naked body of another.

Law enforcement agencies have reported a steady increase of hidden cameras in bedrooms, bathrooms, public showers, locker rooms and tanning salons. EPIC reports that the surreptitious photos combined with the Internet have turned video voyeurism into a sport for many voyeurs.

Tim Johnson, a spokesperson for bill sponsor Mike Oxley (R-Ohio), said although originally introduced in 2000, the legislation has recently gained traction among lawmakers with the explosive growth of cell phone cameras.

"We weren't even imaging cell phones [with cameras] in 2000. With the introduction of cell phone cameras and the Internet, you now have the potential for instant viewing," Johnson said.

According to Johnson, the bill is narrowly limited to federal property in order to control actions on federal lands and to offer model language to states without a video voyeurism law. Approximately a dozen states currently have such laws.