Should Silent Camera Phones Be Illegal?

Could a simple sound stop a predator?

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., seems to think so.

The congressman has introduced the Camera Phone Predator Alert Act, which would require cell phones with built-in digital cameras to make a sound when a picture is taken.

"Congress finds that children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone," according to King's bill, introduced earlier this month.

By mandating phones that click or "sound a tone" whenever a photo is taken, King, the sole sponsor of the bill, hopes to address this.

"Camera phone technology has become another one of the many avenues through which child predators prey on children, and I believe we must do all we can to deter this behavior and protect the children in our communities," King said in an e-mail to "I introduced the Camera Phone Predator Alert Act so that parents and children can be alerted when these criminals try to exploit our children in public places."

Despite King's good intentions, some experts argue this bill is sorely misguided.

"This seems to be a solution in search of a problem," said Sascha Segan, lead analyst for mobile devices at PCMag Digital Network. "I haven't seen any reputable source saying that there's a major problem with secretly taking dirty camera phone photos [in the United States]."

In Japan and Korea, Segan pointed out, in response to mounting reports of "underskirting," governments have passed laws similar to the one King proposes.

On extremely crowded trains in those countries, men would hold their camera phones under women's skirts and snap away. "Downblousing," which involves similarly intrusive picture-taking, has also been a problem, experts said.

But despite the ubiquity of camera phones (according to market research firm NPD Group, 83 percent of the cell phones sold in 2008 had built-in cameras), these issues seem to be unique to Japanese and Korean society, Segan said

When contacted several child safety organizations, none of them could point to quantitative research demonstrating that silent camera phones pose a serious threat to public safety.

Regardless, the Long Island, N.Y.-based victim's rights group that worked with King on his bill said that the anecdotal evidence provides enough support for this kind of legislation.

"Common sense and anecdotal evidence across our nation demonstrates the need for the federal government to enact the Camera Phone Predator Alert Act," Laura A. Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime Victims Center, told

An Internet search for upskirt photos, she said, proves that Peeping Toms are taking photos of unsuspecting victims and posting collections of the stealth images online.

At a local mall in 2007, two voyeurs armed with camera phones reportedly photographed young girls while they were shopping with their mothers. In another case in New Jersey, an individual was caught sliding a camera phone under dressing room doors to snap pictures.

Because camera phones are so unsuspecting, they need particular attention, supporters of the bill say.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also could not pinpoint formal research on the topic but said the bill could be a step in the right direction.

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