Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yet Another Law That Sounds Good, But Won't Actually Work

Well, OK, you got me.

It actually doesn't even sound good.

House Bill H.R. 414, otherwise known as the Camera Phone Predator Alert Act is the brainchild of New York Representative Peter King (R). Currently in committee, H.R. 414 would require all cell phones with an embedded camera to make an audible fake shutter noise or a click when taking a picture.

Yep, shutter noise - like thongs, it should be the law, missy.

King wants all phones to make some kind of noise loud enough to be heard "within a reasonable radius of the phone whenever a photograph is taken with the camera in such phone."

“Reasonable radius” is not defined in the draft bill, so I guess it’ll be up to the cops. “All right, hold it right there, Pal, this is the police! Drop the phone and kick it over here. I’m ten feet from you and I’m not hearing any clicking!”

The logic being that children are being exploited by an army of camera phone wielding perverts. See apparently, predators take pictures of kids in locker rooms and restrooms and such like that with their stealthy silent camera phones and publish the resulting porn on spankthemonkey.com or something. Also, there’s apparently a bunch of, uh, well, technically I guess they’re called ‘men,’ who like to take pictures up an unsuspecting girl’s skirt or down her shirt – usually this is done in a public place (I admit to being not completely clear on the sport, researching it on the web is not something you want to be doing if you’ve got young children around or if you’d like to remain off the FBI’s cyber-crimes watch list. Just sayin’).

Now, just so we’re clear here – I’m really not standing here supporting the rights of covert picture snapping pervs. No really. I know you’re shocked, especially those of you who have me pegged as a bunny petting liberal. Personally, I think that a better law would be one that engenders the general public to beat the ever living snot out of anybody caught engaging in such behavior. Tar, feathers, and baseball bats optional. I think a law like that would go a long, long ways towards curbing the perverts, but hey, that kind of liberal thinking never works.

And to be honest, I can think of a number of reasons for cell phone cameras to make a loud noise when used, and not just so we can spot the pervs in the locker rooms. Camera phones are banned from a number of workplaces, because employees were using them to photograph sensitive information. Camera phones are the interactive cheat sheet, students photograph their tests and send the images to their friends in the library and get answers texted back – most schools have banned phones in the classroom for this reason. Camera phones are used extensively by terrorists (overseas mostly, which this law would obviously have no effect on) to conduct covert surveillance as part of the pre-attack planning phase, often it’s children who are given this role. Camera phones are used to invade the privacy of average citizens, at accident scenes, in hospitals, in public. Give it some thought and I’m sure you can come up with a dozen examples for yourself.

So, if Representative King gets his way, all of our camera phones will be making a loud faux shutter noise.

Think that will curb the kind of exploitative porn described above?

Yeah, sure.

Here’s what will happen should this bill pass:

- Our phones will probably get more expensive by some significant multiple of the dollar. Manufactures will have to make special phones just for the US market. Now it’s true that they do already to some extent due to our idiotic three system, non-universal GSM cell standards, which means our phones don’t work in most other countries or even with a different US cell phone service. But basically that’s only a SIM card issue – swap the card and the phone works on a different system without changing the core electronics. The noise and speaker control is a coding issue. So, you’ll have to program certain phones for the US and certain phones for non-US markets. That means our phones will be more expensive.

- You will damned sure know when somebody is taking a picture of children. Say like an auditorium full of parents with camera phones watching their kids’ kindergarten play, or six grade band concert, or high school graduation. In fact, it’s likely that that’s about the only thing you’ll be hearing.

- Those using a phone to record a crime, of which there have been numerous examples lately, would put themselves at risk. “Hey, hear that noise Mr. Cop Beating the Snot Out of That Black Motorist? Howsabout coming over here and kicking my ass too?”

- People will still be able to shoot covert video – yes, video capable phones often display a red LED when filming, which is why people put their finger over it, or cover it with tape.

- Museums and art galleries and other such traditionally quiet places will be full of clicking and loud shudder noises – and probably a lot of irritated people.

- Actual cameras, including old mechanical wet film instamatics and SLR’s, and especially little nearly invisible high resolution digital cameras will remain silent or mostly so.

- A lucrative and highly popular business of hacking the phone’s speaker electronics and/or code will emerge pretty much instantly.

- Plenty of older phones without the mandated noise function will remain is use for years to come.

- Deaf and hearing impaired people will have no warning of exploitation. This is discriminatory. Somebody will sue. It’ll be a class action lawsuit.


- The perverts and child predators will be completely unaffected.


  1. I read about this the other day. It is indeed a terribly stupid and insane law.

    I mean, pervs shooting upskirt have been with us probably almost as long as there have been cameras. (One imagines a fellow carting around a Daugerrotype at the end of a long pole in 1850s New York. "Eep! What are you doing, sir!" "My apologies, madam, my tinotype seems to have become entangled in your hoopskirts somehow--I assure you it's wholly innocent and not what it seems--" "Officer! Truncheon this deviant!")

    The worst part is that it's almost too stupid a law not to get passed. Every legislator will find himself in mortal fear of being voted out during the next election cycle, when his opponent brands him a servant to the upskirting pervert lobby. And that, regrettably, is why I sometimes think democracy is doomed to fail.

  2. Jim and Eric, why'd y'all have to intrude with your logic and stuff? I mean, do you hate children? Do you hate America? Do you love the terrorists? Do you--

    What? There's a new guy in the White House now? And he's not trading on fear?


  3. I wondered why Michael's phone had an annoyingly loud "chr-chink" when he takes a picture.

    I hate sounds on cell phones. Why are people so stupid?

  4. I hate sounds on cell phones.


    Why are people so stupid?

    Those are actually two separate issues, Strunk and White says you should have made those thoughts different paragraphs.


  5. Oh, goodie, just one more annoying noise for cell phones to make. And my digital camera will remain blissfully silent when I want it to.

    Yes, I want to protect people from predators and pervs, just some days the phones make more noise than is reasonable. And that's just the ringtones!!

    Of course, with the laws being passed to ban texting while driving, I suppose this will get tacked on to them and shoot right through the respective legislatures. And for the record, the texting while driving law is not soon enough - we got our first texting while driving case today, I'll keep y'all posted on that one.


  6. Sorry folks, Peter represents a district in Long Island, so I've never had the opportunity to vote against him. Things are looking up, though. He's threatening to run for Hillary's seat in 2010, and that'll give me the chance to kick his ass out of office!

  7. Jim, you're lucky you got complete sentences.

  8. This is like the "three strikes and your out law" - makes you feel good while solving absolutely nothing.

    I like the "Jim Wright Memorial Beat The Snot Out Of Kiddie-Picture-Taking Pervs" law myself.

  9. I don't think I like the sound of "memorial," Vince. Just sayin'.

  10. My previous phone had a camera and it used to make a noise like this, and there was no way to turn it off.

    The phone had an annoying habit of going into camera mode while in my pocket - the camera button was placed so that it was easy to push if I had a couple of things in the pocket. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is when you're in a men's room, and suddenly it sounds like the paparazzi have arrived?

  11. The phones in Japan are like this already (by law) for the same reasons you have already described. http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2008/07/pervert-alert-j.html

  12. Hey, I know, lets spend valuable time coming up with and trying to pass stupid/useless laws. It's not like there's anything better to do.

  13. Raymond, true - and it's really curbed the amount of upskirt, downblouse, and just general freaky porn pictures coming out of Japan.

    Oh, wait...


  14. Having been the subject of 2 or 3 thousand camera phone pictures while in India ('cause if you're white, you're probably a movie star), I can tell you. It's pretty obvious when someone is taking a picture of you, no matter how surreptitious they think they're being.

  15. Well, Anne, in our mind you are a smoking hot movie star.

    Paparazzi, it's just a cross you'll have to bear.


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