How can you sell a 3G phone without mentioning its video-phone capabilities? And can you sell a 3G phone without a video camera? Well, if you sell phones, you may have to.
It's always been something of an in joke with those who know the Japanese market for miniature cameras. You know that they are described as "up-skirt" devices, but you always assumed this was a witticism. But no: and now it's going to get the camera phone made illegal in America. The Video Voyeurism Prevention Act has now been approved. It passed the Senate last year, and has now got through the House Judiciary Committee. It, or something like it, will almost certainly become law.
According to Reuters, the bill "would prohibit taking covert pictures in locker rooms, bedrooms and other places where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy". The intention of the law is to stop camera-phone snooping. And the problem is, although quite possibly more people want to see phone snooping continue than want to see it banned, none of the snoopers are likely to admit to this covert activity. And so a pro-phone lobby looks unlikely to get started.
The habit of banning camera phones simply follows the banning of ordinary cameras in many places. Sports centres, changing rooms, swimming pools and even some beaches have attempted to enact laws prohibiting photography; the problem is, too many people want to take pictures of their family to make these laws enforceable. In the past, the problem was pretty easily dealt with by common sense. A full-size camera with a motor and a big lens is pretty obvious and if you point it at someone, and they don't want to be photographed, they can be pretty explicit about it.
But the miniature camera means that you never know for sure whether someone is taking a picture or not. And the camera phone can be used to take pictures "sideways" - that is, you hold it to your ear, and pretend to be taking a call, but actually, press the "capture" button to shoot the subject on your side.
It remains to be seen whether such a law can be enforced. If enough people really like having camera phones to simply ignore the law, then obviously not; but the punishment could involve imprisonment. And, as usual, the law is unlikely to catch the professional snoop. Literally hundreds of websites advertise up-skirt pictures, and five seconds with Google (plus a popup blocker!) will persuade most sensible people that these are not "candid" pictures. They're posed by professional models.
Nonetheless, enough hysteria could be created by the sheer volume of apparent snoop pictures of this sort that actual prosecutions may follow. The result, in the end, will be that the mobile phone breaks up into modules, along the lines proposed by IXI Mobile - with a central "personal hub" or PMG, linking camera, phone, games platform, and keyboard modules. The camera module will appear not to be part of the phone, but to be an ordinary, if miniature, camera.
Attempts to ban miniature cameras are unlikely to be successful. Someone with a personal mobile gateway would be able to mount a perfectly functional megapixel camera in a bluetooth signet ring, with complete digital security and almost indetectable disguise.
Our opinion: a genuine fad for true sneak "intimate" photography of ordinary pictures is most unlikely to become widespread. The resulting images are unlikely to be even vaguely erotic, and boredom would set in quickly. But the law prohibiting such devices may rest on many statute books for many years, nonetheless.