Thursday, January 19, 2012

Candid Camera

A January 18 article posted on the Minneapolis Star-Tribune website:

A Florida man has been charged with surreptitiously videotaping men in an airport restroom by using a camera rigged into a book.

Joshua Fletcher, 34, of Valrico, Fla., appeared in court Wednesday to answer to two gross misdemeanor counts of interference with privacy. He was charged after a Monday incident at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in which someone complained to police that Fletcher was holding what appeared to be a book with a hole in it, with a camera or cellphone behind the book.

Charges say airport police approached Fletcher outside the restroom and recovered his cellphone, which contained multiple videos of men urinating in public restrooms. A search of a trash bin nearby revealed an address book with a hole in it and a digital camera.

The incident occurred in the same restroom where former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was arrested in June 2007 for allegedly soliciting sex from an undercover police officer.

Fletcher's attorney, Marsh Halberg, called the arrest "an unfortunate situation."

"We will await what is discovered on the camera," Halberg said. "Obviously there's the question of privacy and limitations regarding private versus public sexual activity."


Don't get the idea that I'm an advocate of this kind of behavior but questions about it are part and parcel of the simmering debate about things like police arresting individuals for recording their activity or confiscating their phones and cameras, the use of surveillance cameras on private and public property and the difference between a human observing something personally and looking at a recording of the same event. There seems to be a general agreement, or at least acceptance, that businesses have the right to record the images of people entering their premises, apparently to both discourage crime and aid in the apprehension of perpetrators. The same seems to be the case with public spaces like business districts and college campuses.

The case could be made that there's a difference between an observer taking notice of the size of a man's penis at an airport rest room urinal and the same observer taking a digital photo of the member. But is there really? How do we even know that there aren't hidden surveillance cameras in public restrooms? Singer Chuck Berry was arrested for taping the occupants of a lady's rest room in a business he owned. What comparison would be made between a photo of a person and a sketch or very well done portrait? Would a quick pencil caricature of someone be an invasion of their privacy? Primitives around the world are often reluctant to have their photo taken because they feel the process steals part of their soul. Are we wrong to dismiss their concerns and if we're not, why do we care if someone is recording us? Recently there have been news stories of people convicted of child pornography for downloading computer images of imaginary children, children that couldn't have been harmed, because they don't exist. Disgusting as such behavior is, there's a philosophical issue there that really hasn't been explored to the point of resolution.

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