The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today decided the case of Commonwealth v. Michael Robertson and considered the issue of whether secretly photographing or videotaping a person in a nude or partially nude state is illegal. The court ruled that it is not.
The defendant in this case was charged under M.G.L. c. 272, section 105, “Photographing, Videotaping or Electronically Surveilling Partially Nude or Nude Person”, which states in part:
“Whoever willfully photographs, videotapes or electronically surveils another person who is nude or partially nude, with the intent to secretly conduct or hide such activity, when the other person in such place and circumstances would have a reasonable expectation of privacy in not being so photographed or videotaped…and without that person’s knowledge and consent…”
The defendant here, while a passenger on a trolley in Boston, allegedly used his cell phone to photograph the woman’s upper thigh who was seated across from him. Another passenger who saw what the defendant was doing reported it to the police and the woman later acknowledged that she did not know she was being photographed.
Later on that same date, another female passenger noticed the defendant taking a photo of her crotch area. Using her own cell phone, she took a picture of the defendant photographing her.
In reaching its decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Court analyzed the language of the statute that reads “…another person who is nude or partially nude.” The court distinguished between secretly photographing partial nudity and someone who is partially nude. In other words, the court explained that, as written, the statute prohibits the secret taking of a photograph of someone who is in a nude or partially nude state, and NOT secretly taking a photograph of partial nudity.
Put another way, the court interpreted the phrase “partially nude” to mean someone who is partially clothed and who has one or more of his/her body parts exposed at the time the secret photograph is taken. Analyzing the facts of this particular case, the court went on to specifically explain that a female passenger on a train, who is wearing a skirt or other clothing covering her body, is not a person who is “partially nude”, irrespective of what is or not on underneath.
Obviously, the purpose of this law was to prevent “Peeping Tom’s” from taking voyeur type secret photographs of person’s private areas, but the statute as written does not appropriately proscribe that conduct. Given the court’s ruling and interpretation of the statute as written, it would now be up to the legislature to revisit and amend the language in the statute.
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