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New Jersey Bill Would Criminalize Taking Photos of Kids

Last week, a New Jersey State Assembly committee considered a bill that would make it illegal to photograph minors without parental consent. The committee ultimately decided that the bill was overly broad and needed amending before it could be voted on.

The bill came together in the aftermath of a local mini-scandal last summer in Ringwood, New Jersey. A 63-year-old man was caught videotaping 8-10 year-old girls' at a swim meet. He allegedly told police he found the girls "sexy." The girls' parents were understandably furious when police informed them that they could charge the man with trespassing and petty disorderly conduct, but nothing more serious since the girls were not nude when videotaped.

Thus, the introduction of bill A3297: Backed by angry parents and tough-on-crime state lawmakers, the bill would criminalize the videotaping or photographing of children if "a reasonable parent or guardian would not expect his child to be the subject of such reproduction."

Not surprisingly, the vaguely-worded bill has met with widespread opposition. Matt Friedman reports:

Even the sponsor of the measure, Assemblyman David Russo (R-Bergen), acknowledged that the legislation would need to be amended to pass constitutional muster.He said that as technology improves, more and more people are likely to wind up on camera unwillingly.

"We know this sort of smacks of the opposite of the way society is going," Russo said, "but this is why we did this and we think it’s an issue that should be discussed."

Lauren James-Weir, an attorney for the New Jersey Press Association, said such a measure would make it nearly impossible for news outlets to publish photographs or film.

"If a newspaper covers a high school track meet, before it could take any photographs it would have to verify the ages of all the persons who may be captured in those photographs," she said. "If any of these people are under 18, a photograph by the newspaper would be in violation of (the bill) unless the newspaper either obtains consent from all these parents or was confident that a reasonable parent would expect his or her child to be photographed."

Lawmakers may attempt to narrow the scope of the bill and try again. For now, the stalled bill serves as a monument to all legislation that unfairly burdens the many in an effort to punish the few.