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'Upskirting' Picture-Taking Ban Passed by Aldermen to Thwart 'Weirdos'

By Ted Cox | May 23, 2014 12:39pm
 Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) said everyone should have the "expectation of privacy," even in public places.
Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) said everyone should have the "expectation of privacy," even in public places.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — A City Council committee Friday passed a ban on "upskirting" photos and video to close what one alderman described as a "loophole in the law."

The Finance Committee passed an ordinance sponsored by Aldermen Latasha Thomas (17th) and Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the committee.

The ordinance makes it illegal to shoot or distribute photographs or video taken "under or through the clothing ... for the purpose of viewing the body or the undergarments worn by that person without that person's consent."

It would apply to so-called upskirting and "down-blouse" images and sets a $500 fine for violations.

It heads for full passage by the Council Wednesday.

Thomas said she was shocked to find that seemingly clear-cut "peeping Tom" cases had been thrown out in Massachusetts and Oklahoma over photos and video taken in public places. The Oklahoma case involved photos taken at a Target, while the Massachusetts case involved photos taken on public transportation.

"We want to avoid this common issue in Chicago," Thomas said, calling it a "loophole in the law."

Burke added that the city was being proactive in addressing the issue before it becomes a public nuisance.

"If it's happening in Boston, you can bet your boots it's happening in Chicago," he said.

Ten years ago, Burke sponsored legislation that made it illegal to use cellphone cameras in a public "private area" like locker rooms and bathrooms.

Thomas pointed out that the latest smartphone cameras have made it easier both to take illicit pictures and video and to distribute them on the Internet.

Burke called the new ordinance a "tool to keep pace with the development of technology" for those with what he called "evil motives."

Chicago Police Sgt. John Nowakowski testified that the Chicago Police Department supports the ban, saying, "A lot of times the victim doesn't even know it's happening," referring to people targeted on staircases or getting in and out of cars.

Burke said Massachusetts has passed a similar law against "upskirting" photos, and Boston's mass-transit agency had launched a public service campaign letting riders know they have an expectation of privacy.

Thomas labeled it "vulgar photography" meant to address a "sexual fetish."

"A lot of weirdos roaming around, right Sarge?" Burke said.

"Yes, sir," Nowakowski replied.