U administrators craft policies against picture phones

Photographing people in private locations is a misdemeanor under current law.

Hayley Odom

Picture cell phones that boast digital cameras the size of a dime could create tricky privacy conundrums for guardians of the University’s more intimate areas.

Although no privacy violations have occurred, University officials foresee problems as the phones grow more popular. Administrators are crafting policies that could prohibit where and when these phones are used.

The recreation center is drafting a policy that would limit picture-phone use. The revision comes when gyms nationwide are posting signs prohibiting picture-phone use in locker rooms.

“We’re in the process of figuring out a policy, but currently there isn’t one in place,” said Beth Asfahl, assistant recreational sports director. “It will probably be in place sometime this semester.”

Picture phones are the most popular cell phones on the market, communication industry leaders said. They range from $100 to $500, and some can record digital video.

“The majority of phones in the future will have integrated digital cameras as well as a digital video-recording feature,” Sprint PCS spokesman Dave DeVries said. “In the past year, 66 million pictures were sent across our network, which is an indication that this trend will continue in the future.”

Andrew Lagatta, a second-year law student, owns a picture phone but had never thought of the potential privacy violations.

“I rarely use the camera feature,” he said. “It wasn’t a deciding factor for me when I bought the phone.”

As interior design senior Jill Dieruf finished her workout and packed her gym bag last week at the recreation center, she paused and said, “I never really thought about it.

“But I can see where it might be an issue because you can’t tell if someone’s taking a picture with a phone or not.”

It is a misdemeanor to use a camera in areas intended for privacy, such as public restrooms and locker rooms.

Legislators could create tougher penalties if privacy violations become more prevalent, University law professor Dale Carpenter said.

“New technology often leads to legislation,” Carpenter said. “It’s conceivable that picture-phone usage would lead to legislation if there were enough cases of abuse in gyms and semi-private areas. But the first reaction will be to post notices saying no picture-taking in private areas.”

DeVries, who has not heard of any privacy violations, said picture phones are no different than cameras and should not require new legislation.

“Cameras have been on the market quite some time,” he said. “But picture phones are relatively new to the U.S., which is why they are attracting a lot of attention.”

Sensitive areas at the University that require additional security do not have restrictions.

“There haven’t been any issues on campus yet,” said Greg Hestness, University assistant vice president for public safety. “Even if there was concern that sensitive information in research areas could be broadcast, the credentialing system limits who has access to those areas already, which pretty much controls the problem.”