''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