- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

Could peeping Toms be going digital?
A ban on photo-capable cell phones in Hong Kong locker rooms suggests worry that the devices could be the newest threat to individual privacy.
Physical, one of the city's largest health club chains, has restricted camera-equipped cell phones from designated areas to protect its members' privacy.
The decision prompted other businesses, including Physical's competitors, to reconsider their privacy policies. Fitness First, another Hong Kong business considering new privacy rules, doubts its clientele would abuse photo-capable phones, but "for the safety of everyone, we're working on some kind of policy to protect all our members right now," spokeswoman Anne She said.
Whether this dilemma is headed for the United States is still a question one that has policy-makers pondering whether digital wireless technology poses a problem or just a piece of the puzzle.
"It is easier than ever for people to use these devices," said Cedric Laurant, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "I could definitely foresee clubs banning camera-enabled cell phones, and nothing would prohibit them legally from doing so."
Health clubs are just one type of venue that Mr. Laurant predicts will ban the phones.
"Concert halls and theaters could prohibit not only the use, but also the entry of such items," Mr. Laurant said.
Other analysts don't believe these phones present a unique threat.
"I don't think there is a great need to fear cell phones in the locker room any more than people fear digicams or cameras in the locker room," said Duane Freese, an editorial consultant for techcentralstation.com, an online magazine about technology, defense and public policy.
"All modern mobile technology has the capacity to intrude on people's privacy if misused," Mr. Freese said. "But that is no reason to fear it. Just punish those who abuse it."
The problem with that, some members of Congress say, is that those who abuse these technologies often go unpunished.
In April, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, introduced the Family Privacy Protection Act, or the "video voyeurism" bill.
In addition to privacy provisions for minors, the bill would make it a federal crime for any person to use a camera or similar device to record another individual in an intimate setting. The legislation mandates a fine and/or imprisonment for up to three years if the case involves recording of an adult, or 10 years if the case involves a minor.
The bill, awaiting action in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, is almost identical to a law enacted in Louisiana. That bill was drafted in response to a Louisiana woman who discovered, after being videotaped without her knowledge by a family friend, that there was no law against such an act.
Four other states California, Michigan, Mississippi and Ohio have enacted similar laws prohibiting the act of filming an individual in a private place, such as a restroom or changing room.
Laws in Connecticut and New York vaguely address video voyeurism; Arizona and Georgia are considering such legislation.
These are the latest of a new wave of privacy concerns brought about by the rise of wireless technology.
In Hong Kong and much of Asia, photo-capable phones are the craze; the public there enjoys easy use of the latest technologies and the exchange of personal data across the Internet. While that is less the case in the United States, industry watchers say the trend is growing.
T-Mobile, a cellular phone provider with four locations in the Washington area, reported that the camera-equipped cell phone was the "hottest Christmas item" in 2002.
Employee John Phillips said each D.C. store sold at least 100 models of the newly released device during the holiday season. "We were back-ordered for weeks," he said.
Meanwhile, those who are uneasy about their privacy can purchase Plus Guard, a countersurveillance device from NCG Co. used to inspect public restrooms, weight rooms, hotels, dressing rooms, tanning beds or any other public area.
This $43 investment compared with more expensive models upwards of $500 works by detecting radio waves from wireless transmitters.
NCG has sold more than 5,000 of these candid-camera catchers since October 2000, when it began selling the device. Mick Stwertnik, sales manager at NCG, said privacy concerns are a great purchasing motivator.
"[Our customers] feel that they are being watched all the time," he says.
The more mainstream countersurveillance equipment becomes, he said, the more would-be privacy invaders will have to think twice.

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