Technology

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Cell Phone Camera “Click” Law Stirs Controversy

January 30, 2009 08:57 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Opponents of a proposed law to require cell phone cameras to make an audible noise say the measure is unnecessary, and will not deter predatory photographers.

Law Points Lens at Sexual Predators

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The Camera Phone Predator Alert Act, which would “require any mobile phone containing a digital camera to sound a tone whenever a photograph is taken,” was introduced into Congress by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).

“Congress finds that children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone,” King said to betanews.

But with 83 percent of cell phones sold last year featuring built-in cameras, according to the market research firm NPD Group, opponents of the law point out that the clicks would be an unnecessary nuisance for most people. Opponents also argue that the sound would not deter most criminals, as it could be muffled by placing tape over a phone’s speaker or by creating a diversion such as coughing or laughter.

Some even disagree that criminals wielding cell phone cameras are a serious issue. “This seems to be a solution in search of a problem,” said Sascha Segan, lead analyst for mobile devices at PCMag Digital Network, to ABC News.
But Laura A. Ahearn, executive director of the New York-based victim’s rights group Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, which worked on the bill with King, says that “common sense and anecdotal evidence” are enough to prove that the legislation is needed.

Similar laws have existed for some time in Japan and Korea, where “underskirting” and “downblousing” by furtive men have long been a problem. In Japan, hundreds of Web sites hosting such illicit pictures have cropped up, including “Sneaky Shot Mania” and “Erotic Kingdom,” and cell phone cameras are now legally required to trigger a loud ring whenever a photo is taken.

And some point out that camera phones have often come in handy for victims of crime. The Washington Post noted in 2005 several instances in which citizens wielding cell phone cameras were able to nab criminals. In August of that year, New York City subway rider Thao Nguyen took a cell phone picture of a flasher that was later published on the cover of the New York Daily News. “I turned on the camera,” she said to the Daily News. “He was still masturbating. I aimed it and quickly took the shot. As soon as I took it, he zipped up and got off the train.” The suspect was identified after the photos were posted on the Internet.

Last fall, the New York Police Department started soliciting photo and video tips from citizens on its Web site Crime Stoppers (nypdcrimestoppers.com), and is now receiving text messages and cell phone pictures from witnesses and informants.

Opinion & Analysis: Will the bill pass?

Beyond skeptics’ concerns that the law would be ineffective against sexual predators, others say that it probably won’t pass. Wired comments: “But chances this bill will pass in the U.S. in its current form? Near zero. It has no co-sponsors and hasn’t seen much traction. But if it does, be prepared for clicktones to be the next big thing after ringtones.”

Key Player: Congressman Peter T. King

King is a Republican who is serving his eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Born on April 5, 1944, he worked as a lawyer before winning office in the Hempstead Town Council in 1977. During his time in Congress, he has co-authored the anti-immigration Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437), which passed the House in 2005, and currently serves as a ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee and also on the Financial Services Committee.
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