AML in Print

Wireless World: 'No camera phones allowed'

By Gene J. Koprowski
United Press International
Published 7/2/2004 9:14 AM

A weekly series by United Press International examining emerging wireless telecommunications technologies.

CHICAGO, July 2 (UPI) -- The sign in the lobby at the sports club in Los Angeles is specific. It reads: "No Mobile Phones Beyond This Point." Management at the club did not have a problem with mobile phones, until quite recently. After all, their upscale clientele consists of film and TV producers, who like to do deals, or at least like to be seen as doing deals, while on the stair stepper or the treadmill.

The intrusive camera phone has changed all that.

"There is a celebrity clientele at the club," Amy Levy, a member of Sports Club LA, which now prohibits all mobile phones, told United Press International. "They are concerned about people taking pictures of them while they were in the shower, or while they were doing Pilates (the exercise routine). They do not want to see those pictures on the Internet."

From the federal government in Washington, D.C., to local health clubs and schools, camera phones are increasingly verboten. There are several reasons for this anti-technology trend.

The clubs are worried about members' privacy, schools fret about kids cheating on exams, and the government has legitimate national security concerns in a time of war.

None of this appears to be dampening consumer demand for camera phones -- mobile phones with embedded cameras, used to snap pictures and send them over the Internet.

The growth has been explosive. Research by International Data Corp., a computer industry consultancy in Boston, revealed there were some 8.5 million camera phones in use in 2003, but 26 million this year. Two years from now, 80 percent of all mobile phones sold will be camera phones, IDC's research foresees.

This profusion of photo-taking technology is challenging the cultural status quo.

"These phones are not made to embarrass people anywhere or anytime," said Lisa Mirza Grotts, president of AML Group, an etiquette consulting firm in San Francisco, which works with MetroPCS, a mobile phone company.

"That includes in bathrooms, locker rooms or night clubs," she told UPI. "Where there is privacy, there has to be permission. The rules for social behaviors have to change as our culture evolves. But people still have to apply the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have done to you."

In social situations, women are feeling particularly vulnerable because of camera phones.

"There is a new term, 'upskirting,' for putting the cell phone up someone's skirt," said Eric Gertler, a lawyer and author of "Prying Eyes: How to Protect Your Privacy from People Who Sell to You, Snoop on You, and Steal from You" (July 2004, Random House).

"There's another term, 'down-blousing.' The technology certainly is way ahead of the law and also our reaction to it," he told UPI.

There are potential problems for employers as well. For example, if a rogue employee uses such a camera at work, and humiliates a female employee, placing a compromising photo of her on the Internet, or a company intranet, the employer could be liable.

"The employer has the liability for what goes on in the workplace," said Patricia Eyres, a lawyer and president and chief executive officer of Litigation Management and Training Services Inc. in Long Beach, Calif. "Many are developing policies dealing with camera phones. Harassers are certainly getting more creative in their use of technology."

Another concern of employers is that disloyal employees will take the camera phones to work, photograph sensitive documents, which contain proprietary information or trade secrets, and sell them to a third party, like something out of a 1960s spy movie thriller. The government also is concerned about leaks of national security through camera phones, a modern day Alger Hiss episode.

Educators are very concerned about the potential adverse effects of camera phones.

"This is a growing problem," Kenneth S. Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting company in Cleveland, told UPI. "There is a disruption of the educational environment."

Years ago, before mobile phones became cheap and pervasive, many schools banned them, fearing gang members and drug dealers were using them on campus for nefarious reasons.

That concern is largely gone, and many suburban parents give their teenage children wireless phones, so they can stay in touch with them all the time.

"It's an electronic baby sitter," Trump said.

Educators generally have relented, hoping to appease the anxieties of families, many of whom have both parents working far from their child. Camera phones now have added a new twist to the old worry of educators.

"There is a concern about cheating and inappropriate behavior and invasion of privacy," Trump said. "Kids will be kids, one way or the other. There is a high risk of inappropriate behavior with these phones."

Trump said there are stories of students taking exams, then photographing the exams and sending them to friends, wirelessly, so they can pass them, with ease, later in the day.

Legislation in Florida and South Dakota going into effect this month will attempt to curtail the use of mobile phone cameras by rogues or would-be rogues.

Hawaii's legislators already have passed a law banning photography in public with a camera phone of individuals, without their permission. Schools are banning the phones as disruptive to the educational environment.

"There will probably be First Amendment tests for this," Eyres said.

Technology experts said there still is a lot of good that can come from the phones, because the cameras allow people on the go to stay linked and share their lives with friends and family -- all over the globe. Because of that fact, camera phones are likely to keep trucking along, on their long, strange, wireless technology trip.

"When I was going to buy a cell phone, didn't think of camera phone as being a necessity. I thought it was kitschy, and for teenagers," said Levy, president of Amy Levy Public Relations in Los Angeles. "I didn't need that feature. But the phone the company was offering had a camera in it. I bought it, and now I always have it with me. I went to a Grateful Dead concert on Thursday. I took a picture of the stage to remember the experience."