TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer) introduced legislation stiffening penalties for privacy invasion when the offense involves video taping and distributing images of someone in an intimate setting where that person would reasonably expect not to be observed.
The proposal comes after a Rutgers University student was allegedly recorded by his roommate in a sexual encounter with another man, and the video streamed live on the Internet. The victim, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, later leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge, according to published reports.
“Whether this was a cruel joke or outright harassment of this student, what happened on Rutgers University’s campus was a crime,” said Turner. “Video taping someone without their knowledge, especially in an intimate setting, and distributing the images over the Internet is serious. We need to send a clear message that we’re not going to take this lightly and that there will be severe consequences for invading someone’s privacy in this manner.”
Two students – Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, 18, of Plainsboro, and Molly Wei, 18, of Princeton – were charged with two counts each of invasion of privacy for allegedly using a camera to view and transmit a live sex scene without the victim’s knowledge. Ravi was charged with two additional counts of invasion of privacy for a allegedly making a failed attempt to use the webcam to capture images of his roommate two days later.
Under New Jersey privacy invasion laws, reproducing images of another person – through photos, videos, film or other means – without their knowledge under circumstances in which a reasonable person would know that another may expose intimate parts or engage in sexual contact is a third-degree offense, carrying a penalty of up to three to five years of imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. The act of distributing those images is also a third-degree offense, carrying the same penalty.
Turner’s legislation would upgrade both to second-degree offenses – which is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to five to 10 years, a fine of up to $150,000, or both.
“The alleged crime committed by these youngsters ended in a young man’s suicide – as far as I’m concerned, the privacy laws on the books don’t take into account the potential consequences of such an act. Someone who secretly video tapes another person and then airs it to the public should get more than a slap on the wrist. Perhaps the threat of prison time will make someone think twice about pulling a sick prank, or intentionally humiliating someone else for their own enjoyment, or out of pure spite.
“Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect for many young people between what happens in the digital world, and what results in the real world,” added Turner. “Advances in the computer age have made invasion of privacy crimes more common, but the consequences are just as devastating to the individual as before. My heart goes out to Tyler’s family, and I just hope this bill will act as a deterrent, so that people think twice before committing similar malicious actions in the future.”
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