From the Arkansas Statehouse...

From cell phone to jail cell.

In Annals of Bad Ideas on 22 January 2009 at 5:33 pm

Rep. Donna Hutchinson wants to get tough on people who surreptitiously snap photos on their cell phones and send them across the internet. At least that’s the short version of a bill she presented in the House Judiciary Committee today.

In reality, the issue is a bit more complicated. And much more ridiculous.

The bill is an amplification of current law that makes it an offense to photograph or videotape another person without his consent. The new proposal would make it Class A Misdemeanor — which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine — to give such an image to someone else or post it on the internet.

The law would apply to all voyeurs, but Hutchinson has one particular group in mind:  high-schoolers. Apparently there has been a rash of teenage boys in Hutchinson’s district who sneak into the girls’ locker room with cell phone cameras and send the material to friends.

I’m all for quashing that kind of thing, but I somehow think we don’t need this bill if its primary target is teens.  School discipline and confiscation of cell phones might be a better measure than prosecution. (Remarkably, Hutchinson said principals and others she talked to wanted to make transmission of a secretly acquired image a felony. She added that she declined because she was uncomfortable making high schoolers felons.)

The committee didn’t seem to think much of the bill, which had several problems in drafting. Read on for details.

Hutchinson’s bill is far too narrow as written, several legislators said. The new provisions try to ensure that the only person prosecuted for sending prohibited material is the person who took them. Yet in doing so, the bill limits liable parties to ‘the defendant’; i.e., someone who is presently on trial under the current law for taking banned video or photos. If someone is found guilty of taking voyeuristic video, then sends the video after trial,  he would not be technically liable under the proposed statute.

Hutchinson said she would propose an amendment that broadens the language of the bill without making it so wide that anyone who inadvertently sends a banned video is liable.

The committee may end up passing the bill with amended language, but I wouldn’t mind if they scrapped it. Even the current law, which is already vague, doesn’t help people who don’t want to be videotaped as long as the offending camera is out in the open for all to see. And the new provisions appear to muddy things even more.

UPDATE 27 January: A clarifying amendment was enough to convince the House Judiciary Committee to approve the bill this morning. It moves on to the full house.

UPDATE 29 January: The bill passed the House today. It now goes to the Senate.

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