'Upskirt' ban in Massachusetts signed into law

11:51 AM, Mar 7, 2014   |    comments
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(CNN) -- Modern-day peeping Toms in Massachusetts, the sorts who get their thrills snapping "upskirt" photos on crowded subways, now have their behavior criminalized.

Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill Friday, according to his office, making photographing or recording video under a person's clothing -- think down a blouse or up a skirt -- a misdemeanor.

The bill was hastily drawn up and passed by lawmakers Thursday, a day after the state's highest court ruled that current laws against secretly photographing a person in a state of partial nudity don't apply to these sorts of secretive shots.

"A female passenger on a MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is 'partially nude,' no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing," wrote Justice Margot Botsford of the state Supreme Judicial Court.

The ruling stemmed from a case against Michael Robertson, 32, who was arrested in 2010. He was accused of using his cell phone to take pictures and record video up the skirts and dresses of women riding on the trolley, according to court documents.

Complaints were filed with transit police, who then staged "a decoy operation" to catch Robertson. He promptly pointed his phone up the dress of a female officer, court documents said. He was arrested and charged with two counts of attempting secretly to photograph a person in a state of partial nudity.

Though a lower court ruled against him, Robertson found his case dismissed Wednesday -- and outraged lawmakers got to work.

"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," Senate President Therese Murray said in a statement. "We will need to revisit this law again and again as technology continues to evolve and ensure that we are providing the necessary protections."

Recognizing how technology plays a part in amplifying the violation is key, victim advocates say. The images can, in no time, make the international rounds online.

"I think there's a fear among people that you could have an 'upskirt' photo taken of you and never realize it," said Emily May, executive director of ihollaback.org, a website that encourages women to share their stories and cell phone photos of harassers. "Your crotch could be on the Internet, and you may never know about it."

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