Senate committee passes Peeping Tom bill

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(Host) The Senate Judiciary Committee has given its unanimous approval to the so-called “Peeping Tom” bill. Backers of the legislation say it’s needed because Vermont doesn’t have strong trespassing laws. But opponents argue the proposal could have unintended consequences.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The issue came to the committee’s attention when it was discovered that Vermont doesn’t have a specific law prohibiting individuals from looking in the windows of other people. As the committee studied the issue, members had additional concerns about the use of new technologies such as cell phone cameras and miniature cameras that allow individuals to secretly take photographs.

Committee chairman Dick Sears says he was astonished to learn how this new technology is being used:

(Sears) “With the advance of technology and the ability to take pictures of people when they quite frankly least expect it, in a state of undress or even walking up the stairs. And somebody with a camera on their shoe and things that we’ve heard about – Vermont’s not alone in trying to protect its citizens’ privacy in those areas too and I think it’s important that we do that.”

(Kinzel) Sears says the key to the bill is that to be charged with this new law, an individual must “knowingly and intentionally” take action to invade another person’s expectation of privacy:

(Sears) “I think this bill is a very well balanced one that not only protects the privacy of individuals but also respects that just glancing around is not going to be a crime in Vermont.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has some strong concerns about the bill. Director Allen Gilbert says his organization supports the need to protect the privacy of individuals but he feels this bill is too vague:

(Gilbert) “We’re afraid that the way the bill is emerging, there are some real gaping loopholes and problems that need to be solved before the bill could become law. The problem is what exactly is a Peeping Tom? That’s not a defined term. It’s just, ‘Oh we think we know it when we see it.’ And unfortunately that’s not good enough for prosecution in a very sensitive area like this.”

(Kinzel) Gilbert says he’s also concerned that the proposal requires that individuals who are convicted twice of this new crime be added to the state’s sex offenders registry. Gilbert says the registry should be reserved for people who are convicted of more serious sex related crimes.

The proposal could on the Senate floor for debate by the end of the week.

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

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