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Tampa lawmaker wants to toughen penalty for video voyeurism

TAMPA — Last summer, Rep. Dana Young heard about the two Bulgarian women who found hidden cameras inside their west Hillsborough apartment.

The part that surprised her most: Video voyeurism is only a misdemeanor.

"You can destroy someone's life, their career, without their even knowing they've been put on video," said Young, a Tampa Republican.

Spurred by that case and others, Young is pushing legislation that would toughen the penalties in video voyeur cases.

Currently, a first-time violation is a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum one-year jail sentence and $1,000 fine. House Bill 215 would make it a third-degree felony, which increases the maximum punishments to a five-year sentence and $5,000 fine.

A person is guilty of video voyeurism if they secretly record someone who is dressing, undressing or nude when the victims have a "reasonable expectation of privacy."

Young said changes in technology — including the ability to stream videos onto the Web — justify increasing the penalties.

Another significant change would be to make it easier for authorities to obtain evidence.

She said authorities can't obtain a search warrant if the crime is only a misdemeanor.

"By increasing the level of crime to felony you're giving the law enforcement the tools they need to crack down and get these folks," she said.

In the case of the Bulgarian women who found the cameras, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office closed its investigation, saying it found no evidence that the cameras transmitted or recorded images. The two women sued the landlord, whom they accused of setting up the camera system.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, is sponsoring similar legislation.

Attorney General Pam Bondi supports the bills, and Young said Bondi spoke this week with Erin Andrews, the ESPN reporter who was secretly videotaped in a hotel in 2009. The man who recorded Andrews posted the images on the Internet.

Young said if her legislation gets to the House floor, Andrews expects to attend. "She is victimized every single time someone views that video clip," said Young. "It still feels just as raw and hurtful today."

Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

Tampa lawmaker wants to toughen penalty for video voyeurism 01/11/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 8:22pm]
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