New legislation passed in Massachusetts to outlaw ‘upskirting’

You wouldn’t think such a revolting practice would require special legislation against it, but then you would be wrong. Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts was forced to sign legislation preventing the practice of “upskirting” just 48 hours after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the practice of taking a photograph up a woman’s skirt was not illegal, according to existing state law.

According to ABC News, lawmakers responding with astonishing speed to put the new legislation into effect, given the court’s decision. Voyeurism legislation already on the books apparently only applied when the victim was photographed nude or partially nude.

What the new “upskirting” legislation does

With no lapse in time, the law immediately went into effect, so it should now be clear to anyone trying to “skirt” the previous legislation that the “secret photographing or videotaping of another person’s sexual or other intimate parts is a crime, whether under or around a person’s clothing, or when a reasonable person would believe that the person’s intimate parts would not be visible to the public.” Whew!

Just so it’s crystal clear: Upskirting is a crime, and violators are subject to a $5,000 fine and jail time.

What started the need for new legislation

While the tawdry practice of surreptitiously photographing women without their permission isn’t new, it has apparently come to the fore with the ubiquitous use of cellphone cameras. In the recently ruled-upon case, it was Michael Robertson, 32, who was taking photos up women’s skirts on the Massachusetts subway in 2010 that led to the court ruling and need for clarification of acceptable social behavior (as if that wasn’t already clear).

Stated Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, “Every person, male or female, has a right to privacy beneath his or her own clothing.” In the case of Robertson, he was charged with photographing two women on the MBTA; however, the court ruled, “they were not nude” and therefore not protected by voyeurism legislation.

Robertson was arrested in August 2010, after passengers alerted authorities to his behavior. The transit police then staged a “decoy operation,” boarding the Green Line subway with Robertson, then watching him proceed to use his cellphone to take yet more inappropriate photographs, including one of a police detective. A red light on his phone indicated that “a video recording was in progress,” according to ABC News.

Not only did Robertson’s lawyer argue that the voyeurism legislation did not protect the women in question, she argued that the women gave up some privacy because they were in a public place. Robertson had the most egregious charges dropped, but still faces misdemeanor charges that could land him in jail.

Catching up with technology

According to CNN Analyst Sunny Hostin: “I think the courts got it wrong. The spirit of the law makes it clear it is about the person’s privacy.” In short, technology and its attendant need for modernizing legislation have not kept pace with the times.

As a result, the state and its governor were forced to take action to right an obvious wrong.