Beacon Hill Officials Pass Legislation to Make Secret ‘Upskirt’ Photos Illegal

The expedited bill came in direct response to a controversial Supreme Judicial Court ruling.

Photo via Margaret Burdge

Photo via Margaret Burdge

Update:

It’s official—”upskirting” in Massachusetts is now illegal. Governor Deval Patrick today signed “An Act Relative to Unlawful Sexual Surveillance,” which updates the state’s existing criminal voyeurism laws to outlaw secretly taking photos up women’s skirts, whether they are clothed or not. The law goes into effect immediately.

Earlier:

When elected officials on Beacon Hill want to get a piece of legislation through the halls of the State House—really get it through the halls—they can move quicker than most people would expect.

After the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled Wednesday that a man caught taking pictures up women’s skirts on the MBTA using the camera on his phone did not break the law, because technically the women were in public and fully clothed, legislators were quick to try and fix the existing “Peeping Tom” laws so that they reflect the rapid changes in technology and address privacy concerns.

Without much hesitation on Thursday, both members of the Senate and House of Representatives pushed through clarifying language that would change how the laws are currently interpreted, making the act of secretly photographing or videotaping people’s undergarments in a public setting a punishable offense.

The proposed legislation would make taking secretive photos of people, whether naked “or covered by clothing or undergarments” illegal. The bill will hit Governor Deval Patrick’s desk Thursday and could be signed by Friday, at which point “upskirt” photos could lead to time behind bars.

“The House took action today to bring Massachusetts laws up-to-date with technology and the predatory practice of ‘upskirting.’ We must make sure that the law protects women from these kind of frightening and degrading acts,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo in a statement.

Senate President Therese Murray agreed. “I am proud of the Senate for taking action today to restore a women’s right to privacy,” she said. “We are sending a message that to take a photo or video of a woman under her clothing is morally reprehensible and, in Massachusetts, we will put you in jail for doing it.”

From the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office to the top of Beacon Hill, officials were disgusted with the Supreme Court ruling handed down on Wednesday, which sided with 31-year-old Michael Robertson. Robertson was charged with snapping images of unsuspecting women while he rode the Green Line in 2010. After being arrested, Robertson tried to get a judge in Boston Municipal Court to toss the charges, claiming it was not illegal to take photos of the women because it was within the guidelines established by the existing “Peeping Tom” laws. That judge rejected Robertson’s appeal, so he took his claim to the state’s highest court. It was there that the justices somewhat-reluctantly backed Robertson’s argument, and reversed the lower court’s decision.

“Stunned and disappointed” by the ruling, Murray and DeLeo swiftly went to work with elected officials to make sure taking photographs up women’s skirts would become a misdemeanor crime that could carry a $5,000 fine, and up to two-and-a-half years in the House of Corrections. Murray said that while the updated law will be a step in the right direction, more needs to be done. “We will need to revisit this law again and again as technology continues to evolve and ensure that we are providing the necessary protections,” she said.

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  • Rob LeFave

    Will men be protected by this law as well? I saw a gentleman sleeping with one leg up. He was wearing shorts without underwear. Would it be ok to take an ‘upshort’ photo and post it online, since he isn’t a woman?
    If that happened to me or someone close to me, I would be extremely ticked off. It would probably be ok in the law’s eyes, since he is a white male, and it seems to be ok to discriminate against that minority.