BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — North Shore lawmakers were among those who supported or helped speedily pass legislation meant to crack down on those who secretly take so-called upskirt photographs.
“The good news is by the action of the Legislature today, we have clarity for the courts and also very serious penalties and also jail time for anyone who engages in this outrageous behavior,” said state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead. “I’m grateful at the speed with which it went through the Legislature.”
The legislation, if signed by Gov. Deval Patrick, creates harsh penalties, including jail time and fines, for someone surreptitiously sneaking photos of another person’s “sexual or other intimate parts ... under or around the person’s clothing” when the victim would think they are covered up and without consent.
The penalty increases when the victim is under 18: Up to five years in state prison and a $10,000 fine. Sharing or disseminating such images of children can mean either 21/2 years in jail or 10 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine.
The legislative reaction was triggered when the SJC Wednesday ruled that the state’s existing peeping Tom laws were too weak to uphold the conviction of Michael Robertson of Andover, who was arrested in August 2010 for allegedly trying to take photos up women’s dresses on the Green Line. Robertson’s attorney argued women “can not expect privacy” on the subway, and current laws only apply those who are nude or partially nude.
“The SJC made it pretty clear that we needed to bring our laws up into the 21st century ... technology,” said state Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem. “In some ways it’s a sad commentary we have to do that, but I guess some people don’t understand what’s appropriate and not appropriate.”
“My reaction is a lot of these laws have never been clear,” said state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, the chairman of the Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, “and there were times when people went in and we had to correct things and make sure people had privacy in changing rooms ... but for some reason, these old archaic laws just weren’t comprehensive enough ... I imagine when the laws were first passed, little cameras were not common.”
The bill wordily attempts to define “upskirting,” as photographing, videotaping or electronically surveilling someone “with the intent to secretly conduct or hide such activity, the sexual or other intimate parts of a person under or around the person’s clothing to view or attempt to view the person’s sexual or other intimate parts when a reasonable person would believe that the person’s sexual or intimate parts would not be visible to the public and without the person’s knowledge and consent.”
State Rep. Leah Cole, R-Peabody, said she was not able to vote on the measure as it passed in an informal session but she supported it. Cole said she was glad the Legislature acted so swiftly to clarify the law.
“I did get a lot of calls to my office right after this happened (the Supreme Judicial Court ruling on Wednesday),” she said, “and they could not believe there was a loophole like this ... I am glad that a woman can feel safe on the subway and they do not have to worry about people taking pictures of them.”
Like Salem’s Keenan, Cole expressed disappointment that the new law was even necessary.
“If you need a law to say not to take a picture up someone’s skirt, you are going to need a law for everything in the state,” she said.
As a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Ehrlich, the Marblehead representative, said she voted on the bill before it came to the floor. She emphasized that this bill not only outlaws “upskirting,” it creates protections for children as well as adults.
“I found it appalling the law did not have the capability of punishing such an offensive violation of privacy and it took a case to reveal this weakness,” she said.
Speliotis said the bill passed the House around 4 p.m. in an informal session, and then went to the Senate where it passed.
“The bottom line is it is very narrow in scope,” Speliotis said of the bill. “It addresses this one particular action, upskirting ... I am a little surprised it has not come to our attention a little sooner.”
Material from the Associated Press and The Salem News’ sister paper, The Eagle-Tribune, were used in this report.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.
POSSIBLE NEW PUNISHMENTS FOR 'UPSKIRTING'