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Video Voyeurism

Orlando has lots of malls, lots of shopping, lots of fitting rooms.  Have you ever had that funny feeling that, while in the shower or changing room, some creep may be watching your every move?   I haven’t, but I’m a 40-something year old guy with a physique that draws little risk of such intrusions.  But, for those of you carrying such anxieties, I’m here to bring you good news--Big Brother is going to make you feel more safe and secure while showering and changing clothes, thanks to the somewhat new offense of video voyeurism (section 810.145(2)(a), Florida Statutes). 

Video voyeurism prohibits the use of a video camera “to secretly view, broadcast, or record a person, without that person’s knowledge and consent, who is dressing, undressing, or privately exposing the body, at a place and time when that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy”. Section 810.145.  Depending upon the age of the participants, this act can be a misdemeanor (videographers under the age of 19 get lighter treatment--anyone smell age discrimination here?), or this act can be a felony if the suspect is over the age of 19 (third degree felony for first time offenders,  repeat offenders are  upgraded to a second degree felony).  There are also upgrades available to those folks who are making video recordings of children under their care.   

Big Brother has written himself out of this law, as you might expect.  Law enforcement agencies who are conducting surveillance may watch video of your wife doing just about anything they want because, hey, they’re the Government!   Another exception to this law involves security systems, so long the owners provide written notice stating that video cameras are present.  And, video surveillance is not considered “video voyeurism” when the video camera is “installed in such a manner that the presence of the device is clearly and immediately obvious”. 

So, how do these charges play out in real life?  The First District Court of Appeals handled a conviction for video voyeurism in the case of J.T.R. v. State, 79 So.3d 839 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012).  J.T.R., a juvenile (that’s why his real name is not revealed, for those of you new to this), was found guilty of videotaping a fellow classmate who was sitting on a toilet in a bathroom stall at school.  J.T.R. had been standing at the stall door for five seconds, when the victim looked up and noticed J.T.R.’s hand holding a cell phone over the stall door. 

J.T.R. appealed the conviction, arguing that the taping was not done “in secret”, and thus does not violate the statute.  Indeed, the statute provides that if the videotaping device is “clearly and immediately obvious”, there is no violation of the law.  In this case, the court of appeals upheld the conviction, because “the victim looked up at the camera after the recording began”.  id. As such, there were clearly moments here when the videotaping was not so obvious, and the court found that this taping incident met the definition of a “secret” recording.    

As technology “progresses”, Florida’s video voyeurism law is going to become more and more problematic.  Satellite technology may be the next prime offender.  Urban myths claim that our satellites can read a newspaper.  At this very moment,  Google Earth provides an excellent service which displays satellite images of just about every place on earth (Big Brother excludes certain military spots, of course!).  As the resolution on these images increases--and it has already--what’s stopping the dissemination of satellite images of folks using their outdoor showers, or nude sunbathers in their own back yards?  Will the use of free satellite services become subject to these video voyeurism laws?  How far these laws will reach remains to be seen.

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