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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Federal law against video voyeurism hailed by victim

Bruce Alpert Newhouse News Service

WASHINGTON – Susan Wilson, the woman whose account of being the unsuspecting victim of a video voyeur prompted more than 30 states to impose penalties for videotaping people without their knowledge, says she is pleased by adoption of the federal Video Voyeurism Protection Act.

Wilson had hoped for a broader measure that would outlaw video voyeurism on private property, as well as at federal facilities. Still, she said Wednesday, “This is an important first step.”

President Bush signed the bill into law last week, making it a federal crime to secretly capture images of people in situations in which they have an expectation of privacy. The law applies to military bases, ships and aircraft as well as national parks and government buildings. Violators could be fined as much as $100,000 or sent to prison for up to a year, or both.

In 1998, Wilson discovered that a neighbor had been video-recording her family’s most private moments in their Monroe, La., home. There was no Louisiana statute under which the culprit could be punished. Wilson successfully lobbied for passage of a state law that made video voyeurism a felony.

Since then, more than 30 other states have imposed penalties for such behavior – most treating the crimes as felonies, some as misdemeanors.

Wilson, 46, said the invasion of her privacy still haunts her. “I struggled just trying to be and feel normal, living every day with the pain of being so violated,” she said. “It did make me driven, though, to get laws to protect Americans from going through what my family and I experienced.”

Sponsors of the federal legislation cited Wilson’s experience when pushing for the bill’s passage, along with recent reports of camera-equipped cell phones and hard-to-detect video cameras being used to tape people in dressing rooms and showers aboard Navy warships.

“Congress is sending a powerful message that video voyeurism, the new frontier of stalking, is criminal behavior, and that its victims will be protected by the criminal justice system,” said Susan Herman, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

Wilson’s story was made into a 2002 movie by the Lifetime Television Network, which plans to rebroadcast it Jan. 8. Actress Angie Harmon, who portrayed Wilson in the movie, said she is happy that Congress and President Bush acted to provide some protection.

“It’s a great salute to a remarkable woman, Susan Wilson, who I remain in awe of,” Harmon said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said Congress needed to protect Wilson and other victims of voyeurism.

“Many states have since passed laws that target video voyeurism to protect those in private areas, but there are fewer protections for those who may be photographed in compromising positions in public places,” he said. “(The new law) makes the acts of video voyeurism illegal on federal land such as national parks and federal buildings, using the well-accepted legal concept that individuals are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy.”