Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Private Parts

Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy when you're consensually gettin' down with your partner, in that they should then still have to ask for your permission to film or photograph you? That's the question being put to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, after a (now former) Waunakee High School chemistry teacher was convicted last year of filming his girlfriend, both alone and with him, in her own home but without her knowledge or consent.

His original trial brought a felony conviction, which in this case I suspect may be a bit too harsh, but certainly he deserved some form of punishment. To me, this seems like a pretty open-and-shut case: how on Earth are you going to argue, as this guy and his lawyers are, that a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy against recording simply because they agreed to have sex with you? It seems ridiculous, and yet here we are: the only previously published case testing the law, the Court of Appeals defined "reasonable expectation of privacy" as meaning a circumstance in which the person depicted nude had a reasonable assumption that he or she was "secluded from the presence of others."

Because his girlfriend was knowingly nude in his presence, she did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy as the court itself has defined it, Jahnke argued.

The law to which the article refers is the "Video Voyuer" law, passed in 2001 as a response to the state supreme court declaring an earlier version unconstitutional. Again, while I'm not entirely sure this guy's case should be classified as a felony, I do strongly believe that what he did was wrong, and that there should be strict penalties associated with it. Furthermore, I'm having a hard time believing that anyone would defend his appeal here (or that a lawyer would take the case in the first place--but I guess getting paid is getting paid). Leave it to the comments section after the CT article to prove me wrong:
"What did she expect? IF it had been published, that would be another story."

"Say he has a photographic memory and has perfect recall of what she looks like without clothing. Alternatively say he has taped her surreptitiously in the raw, and watches it, but does not publish it or share with anyone else. One is illegal one is not?"

Oh humanity, sometimes you fail so spectacularly. Thankfully, however, most of the comments seem to fall along the same lines as my own: this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Certainly, though, this whole thing brings up the larger issue of when and where we all have a "reasonable expectation of privacy." In this day and age of ultra small and portable recording devices, the all-seeing internet, surveillance cameras, and the good ol' paparazzi, how far is legally too far? It's a question I think we'll be wrestling with, sometimes quite dramatically, for a long time to come. In the meantime, if you're not a fan of being filmed without consent, stay out of London.


FP said...

OMG...Emily! Yes, yes, yes this should be a FELONY! Man if anyone ever video taped me (or my daughter) I'd be the one facing a felony charge! This is just way beyond any resemblance of decency. What a sick-o!

Milwaukee Social Worker said...

I totally agree. If someone wants to take some pictures/ videos- they should, out of respect, have their partner's permission and input. Some would be okay with pictures that don't include his/her face. Some may also want to limit the use of those pics. That is the right to privacy. I am not sure what sort of penalty is just, but he should at least have to disclose this "Crime" to any future partners :)

The Lost Albatross