TRENTON – The Assembly Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill that would criminalize the photography of children without a parent’s consent.
The bill (A-3297), sponsored by Assemblymen David C. Russo and Scott T. Rumana, was introduced last year in response to community outrage over a 63-year-old man caught videotaping pre-teen girls at a swimming competition in Ringwood.
Amy Conklin, a Ringwood parent who supports the bill, spoke of her frustration because police could take no real action against the man even though he allegedly filmed the girls because he found them “sexy.”
“He is free to do as he wishes because these innocent 8 year old girls were not naked when he videotaped them,” Conklin said.
The bill would change that, making it a third degree crime to photograph or film a child, “without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian and under circumstances in which a reasonable parent or guardian would not expect his child to be the subject of such reproduction.”
“There’s got to be some way that we can try to help the local police deal with issues of this type,” said Russo.
The assemblyman acknowledged that the bill runs counter to the changing ideas about personal privacy in the 21st century. “We know this sort of smacks of the opposite of the way society is going, but this is why we did this and we think it’s an issue that should be discussed,” he said.
Lauren James Weir, an attorney for the New Jersey Press Association, spoke against the bill. She argued that it was “overly broad” and said that its vague standards would have a chilling effect on free speech.
“The bill also imposes a duty on a newspaper to verify the age of every person who is photographed or recorded, whether that person is the focus of the image or a person in the background,” she said.
The bill does include language to protect the rights of merchants to use surveillance cameras near fitting rooms.
Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande suggested modifying the legislation to make it more specific.
“If we narrow the scope of what we’re talking about and perhaps put in something that really speaks to the predatory nature we’re speaking of, our statute would be more likely to be held constitutional,” she said.