”Hold it right there and Drop that camera”
''WHAT grabbed my attention,'' said Alderman Edward M. Burke, ''was that TV commercial when the guy is eating the pasta like a slob, and the girl sends a photo of him acting like a slob to the fiancée.''
The commercial, for Sprint PCS, was meant to convey the spontaneity and reach afforded by the wireless world's latest craze, the camera phone. But what Mr. Burke saw was the peril.
''If I'm in a locker room changing clothes,'' he said, ''there shouldn't be some pervert taking photos of me that could wind up on the Internet.''
Accordingly, as early as Dec. 17, the Chicago City Council is to vote on a proposal by Mr. Burke to ban the use of camera phones in public bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.
There will be no provision to protect messy restaurant patrons. But Mr. Burke wanted to ban the use of camera phones in places where ''the average Chicagoan would expect a reasonable right to privacy.''
Not that tiny cameras couldn't be spirited into intimate settings before. But now it is a matter of numbers: only a year after camera phones began to appear in the United States, there are now six million of them, according to the market-research firm IDC. And when you marry a camera to a phone that can transmit the pictures instantly, legislation increasingly results.
The Chicago proposal, setting a fine of $5 to $500 for offenders, echoes restrictions adopted in several smaller jurisdictions. What remains to be seen is how and when such laws will be enforced.
While privacy experts, municipalities and the American Civil Liberties Union agree that photos should not be taken without consent in public bathrooms and showers, there is no consensus on the best method of balancing the camera owner's rights with those of the unsuspecting citizen. The town of Seven Hills, Ohio, backed down less than two weeks after proposing a ban to avoid possibly costly court challenges. The mayor, David A. Bentkowski, said he would leave the matter to state and federal legislation.
Trying to distinguish between a camera phone and any other cellphone has also complicated matters. The Elk Grove Park District in suburban Chicago enacted a ban in November that covered the possession of any cellphone -- not just camera phones -- in park-owned restrooms, locker rooms and showers.
'There is no reason to have a cellphone while you're changing and showering,'' said Ron Nunes, one of the park district's commissioners. ''I'd rather protect the children and the public more than someone who wants to call home and see what's for dinner.'' Fresh in the town's memory was a 2001 incident in which a man used a fiber-optic camera to secretly take pictures of children in a park shower.
So far, there have been no complaints in Elk Grove about cellphone transgressions. But Mr. Nunes concedes, ''It's darn near impossible to enforce.'' There will be no searches of bags, he said, and park officials will not summon the police if a cellphone is found in a restricted area.
''We're not going to arrest someone for making a phone call in a locker room,'' he said. ''We're counting on people to just say, 'Shut it off.'''
Though they are permitted in gym areas, patrons say they often leave their phones in the car when they work out there because they usually have to use the changing room first, where the phones are not permitted.
Nancy Funteas, a business owner, said she was worried about missing calls while at the park district gym. ''You feel protected in the locker room, but out here if you need it for business it's not a good idea,'' she said after finishing an upper-body workout.
Desi Leyba, a 30-year-old gym member, admitted: ''Sometimes I forget and I bring it in. I wonder if they're going to make a case of it.''
L. Richard Fischer, a Washington lawyer who deals with privacy issues, said the park district's ban goes too far....
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