Playboy model Dani Mathers made a snap decision to snap a photo of another woman at her gym and post about it online to her Snapchat account. The other woman was naked, standing in the gym's shower. While Mather's actions, which included mocking the woman's looks, were certainly reprehensible, were they also illegal? In today's world, where cameras and Internet access are generally no further away than someone's cell phone, not knowing the limitations on your freedoms to photograph what you see could land you in jail. This is what you should know.
The Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004 makes some situations clearly illegal.
The Video Voyeurism Prevention Act makes it a federal crime to photograph a private area of an individual without their consent anywhere they have a "reasonable expectation of privacy." The change in the laws was largely in response to the rapid rise in popularity of the camera phone and easy-to-use video cameras.
An individual's "private area" is defined under the law as either the naked or undergarment-clad genitals, pubic areas, and buttocks of either gender, as well as the female breast from the top of the areola down. People generally enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy, even when they're in a place that's visible to another member of the public. That includes any place that they may need to be partially or totally undressed, like
- a public restroom
- the sauna or whirlpool
- a gym's changing room
- the showers at a gym
- dressing rooms at department stores
- tanning salons
- the doctor's office
This means that if found in violation of the law, Dani Mathers has the potential of facing up to a year in prison and fines of up to $100,000.
Other situations may not be as easy to recognize.
While there are, clearly, some situations that it's smarter to keep your camera in your pocket in order to avoid a criminal charge, there are many situations that could be less-than-clear. For example, if you're at a private venue, like a wild bachelorette party in a hotel room the night before your best friend's wedding, do the other guests have an expectation of privacy, or is it okay to pull out the cameras and memorialize the event? There isn't always an easy answer.
In situations like that, the best thing to do is to have a designated "picture time" or "picture zone." That way, everyone understands that there is no expectation of privacy for anybody in that zone or during that time. That also allows those who want to retain their privacy to do so without concern.
For more information on how to avoid running afoul of the law this way (or any other way), talk to a criminal law attorney, such as one from Alejandro Rivera PA - A Law Firm, in your area.