Peeping Tom bill to encompass technological surveillance

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(Host) The Senate Judiciary Committee is expanding the scope of the so-called “Peeping Tom” bill to include other acts of surveillance that use new forms of electronic technology. The committee hopes to vote on the bill by the end of the week.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The whole issue of peeping came to the committee’s attention when it was discovered that the state doesn’t have specific laws prohibiting individuals from looking into houses and even taking pictures of people in various forms of undress. Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears says Vermont has liberal laws governing trespassing and he says prosecuting individuals for inappropriate behavior is often difficult under existing statutes:

(Sears) “People can be charged with a variety of crimes if they’re lurking and looking into somebody’s window, but prosecution becomes difficult because you can’t charge for the actual crime of peeping. And we are attempting to change that and provide us with a law that would make it a crime to lurk around and intentionally – and the key word is intentionally – peep, being a Peeping Tom when someone would expect privacy.”

(Kinzel) Sears says the bill is being expanded to include new forms of technology, such as cell phone cameras and miniature cameras. The overriding principle of the bill, according to Sears, is that people should have an expectation of privacy in certain situations and that the use of new technology needs be limited:

(Sears) “But when used for purposes that invade one’s privacy, I think it’s time for the state to suggest that enough is enough. And in this law, we try to set some parameters around the use of some of this technology – particularly the video phones, the cell phone video and the small cameras that can fit on your shoe. I mean, who would have dreamt of that five years ago?”

(Kinzel) The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has been closely following this bill. Director Allen Gilbert says his organization generally supports the legislation, but:

(Gilbert) “We do have some concerns about criminal laws that are broad and that are hard to interpret. And I think with the Peeping Tom law determining the intent of somebody who might be a defendant is critical in bringing a case. We worry about this kind of subjectivity.”

(Kinzel) The bill would also make it illegal for retail businesses to use surveillance cameras in dressing rooms unless the company posts a sign alerting consumers to the presence of the cameras.

The committee is hoping to vote on a final version of the bill by Friday.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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