Senate set to pass Peeping Tom bill

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(Host) The Vermont Senate voted unanimously on Tuesday to outlaw officially the behavior of a Peeping Tom. The legislation makes it illegal for a person to view or photograph another individual who is partially clothed or naked in a setting where there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The Senate Judiciary Committee became very interested in this bill when it discovered that the state doesn’t have a specific law prohibiting these kinds of activities. Committee Chairman Dick Sears says the new law is needed because it’s very difficult to prosecute these cases under existing trespassing statutes.

Sears says the law would be triggered if four criteria are met: someone is viewed or photographed in a state of undress; the perpetrator acted knowingly and intentionally; the victim did not consent to the action; the incident took place in a setting where the victim had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Sears says the law is also needed to combat the inappropriate use of new miniature cameras and cell phone cameras. He says photographs from these new technologies often end up on the Internet:

(Sears) “I had no idea before we started what ‘up-skirting’ and ‘down-blousing’ were. Up-skirting is when you take a picture up a lady’s skirt; down-blousing is when you look from up above and take pictures of that. If you went onto the Internet and typed in the words ‘up-skirt’ or ‘down-blouse’ into the search engine Google, you will find at least three million hits. Think about that.”

(Kinzel) Windsor Senator John Campbell is a member of the Judiciary Committee. Campbell responded to comments he heard from some of his colleagues that the legislation wasn’t needed:

(Campbell) “We are not wasting time on this issue. It’s imperative to protect the privacy of our young women in the state and through this bill we are able to do that. We are saying that it is wrong for someone to invade the privacy and to view a young lady either semi-clad or nude, naked and then even worse for those people to disseminate those pictures onto the Internet.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has some problems with the bill. Director Allen Gilbert says the language of the legislation is too vague and he’s also concerned that people who are convicted twice of this infraction will be added to the state’s sex offender’s registry. Gilbert says the registry should be used only for the state’s most serious cases.

The measure will come up for final approval in the Senate later this week. It then goes to the House for its consideration.

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

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