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Video Voyeurism

18 U.S. Code § 1801 - Video Voyeurism

Video voyeurism is the act of recording someone in a private area without their consent. A “private area” could be a non-public space or a space where an individual would reasonably expect privacy, such as a public bathroom or fitting room.

There are many public spaces where people are filmed, such as retail establishments. These public places can be filmed for safety and legal reasons, and consent is implied.

However, suppose someone at a retailer rigged a camera to film in a changing room or any private place. In that case, it would be considered video voyeurism, which is typically a sex crime as it normally involves sexual gratification or sexual arousal. 

While charges of video voyeurism seem straightforward, there is much nuance for these types of federal sex crimes and how they can be interpreted and applied. 

So, when is video voyeurism considered a federal offense? The Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004 made it a federal crime to secretly take photos or videos of people for lascivious purposes on federal property. 

The federal offense of video voyeurism applies to the “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” which includes military bases, aircraft, national parks, and government buildings.

However, if this crime is committed elsewhere outside a federal property or territory, it typically falls under state jurisdiction and laws. Simply put, video voyeurism is a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. 1801, defined as intentionally taking images of somebody's private area when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

Capturing” an image can include taking a picture, video, film, or recording the image by any other means.  A conviction carries up to one year in federal prison and a fine.

What Does the Federal Law Say?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 88, Privacy, is the federal statute that includes 1801 video voyeurism.

18 U.S.C. 1801 says, “(a) Whoever, in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, has the intent to capture an image of a private area of an individual without their consent, and knowingly does so under circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both. (b) In this section—

18 U.S. Code § 1801 - Video Voyeurism
Federal video voyeurism law prohibits capturing images of someone without consent.

(1) the term “capture” concerning an image means to videotape, photograph, film, record by any means, or broadcast;

(2) the term “broadcast” means to electronically transmit a visual image with the intent that a person or persons view it;

(3) the term “a private area of the individual” means the naked or undergarment-clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or female breast of that individual;

(4) the term “female breast” means any portion of the female breast below the top of the areola and

(5) the term “under circumstances in which that individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy” means—

(A) circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that they could disrobe in privacy without being concerned that an image of a private area of the individual was being captured or

(B) circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that an individual's private area would not be visible to the public, regardless of whether that person is in a public or private place.

(c) This section does not prohibit any lawful law enforcement, correctional, or intelligence activity.”

Video Voyeurism – Quick Facts  

  • The United States Congress passed the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004 over concerns about new technology that can invade someone's privacy, known as “peeping toms.”
  • The video voyeurism law makes it a federal crime to take images of an unsuspecting person, typically a female, who is nude or partially nude, without consent when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
  • This law prohibits using tiny video devices and camera phones to take images of females without their knowledge.
  • There is a substantial increase in the practice of "upskirting" pictures of women and subsequently posting them on the Internet.
  • This law applies when unlawful images are taken with a cellphone, camera, or recording device.
  • A "reasonable expectation of privacy" means someone believed they could undress without capturing their private parts because they were not publicly visible.
  • Violations of 18 U.S.C. 1801 can result in a fine of up to $100,000 or face up to one year of federal imprisonment.

What is Federal Jurisdiction?

The jurisdictional element in the law often makes charging someone with video voyeurism challenging. Still, it includes the following locations as defined under 18 U.S. Code 7, Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States:

  • Airports,
  • Federal Parks,
  • Federal buildings,
  • Federal courtrooms,
  • High seas,
  • Vessels on the Great Lakes,  
  • Aircraft in flight over the high seas,
  • Waters within the United States,
  • Military bases,
  • Diplomatic or consular bases in foreign nations;
  • Any U.S. territory not under state jurisdiction.

What Are the Defenses? 

Federal criminal cases are much more serious than local state cases, meaning you must have experienced legal representation that knows federal laws and procedures. 

Suppose you were accused of violating 18 U.S.C. 1801 video voyeurism law. In that case, our federal sex crime defense attorneys can make different arguments to challenge the charges, such as the following:

  • No expectation of privacy,
  • No intent to capture images,
  • Consent from the alleged victim,
  • Negotiation with prosecutor.

Perhaps we can argue that the alleged victim was not in a location with a reasonable expectation of privacy. Maybe they were in public view where consent to take images is not required.

Federal Video Voyeurism Law

Perhaps we can argue that you did not deliberately capture their images of nudity or violate their privacy. Maybe you were taking pictures of something nearby and unintentionally captured an intimate picture of a woman in the background. In other words, you did not have the specific intent to commit video voyeurism.

Perhaps we can say you had consent from the alleged victim. By definition, it's only a federal offense if you capture someone's private parts without their permission.

Perhaps we could negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a case dismissal by convincing them there is insufficient evidence to convict you. Suppose your guilt is not in doubt. In that case, we might be able to work out a favorable plea bargain.

Contact us for a free case evaluation via phone or the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA, and provides legal representation on federal criminal matters across the United States.

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