Video Voyeurism

18 U.S. Code § 1801 - Federal Crime of Video Voyeurism

The act of video voyeurism is a federal offense under 18 U.S.C. 1801, described as intentionally taking images of somebody's private area when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Suppose you are convicted of violating this statute. In that case, you face up to one year in federal prison and hefty fines.

“Capturing” an image includes taking a picture, video, film, or recording the image by any other means. To “capture” an image means videotaping, photographing, filming, or recording by any other means.

18 U.S.C. 1801 says, “Whoever, in the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, has the intent to capture an image of a private area of someone without their consent, and knowingly does so under circumstances in which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, shall be….”

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

(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) a reasonable person would believe that they could disrobe in privacy without being concerned that an image of a private area was being captured; or (B) they would not be visible to the public….”

The “territorial jurisdiction” includes airports, national parks, government buildings, military bases, and federal courtrooms. Let's review this federal law in more detail below.

What is Video Voyeurism?  

The United States Congress passed the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004 to deal with the growing issue of new technology being used to invade someone's privacy, commonly known as “Peeping Toms,” such as the following examples:

  • Tiny video devices and camera phones being used to take images of females without them knowing they were being filmed;
  • The growing practice of "upskirting" and "downblousing" pictures of women and subsequently posting them on the Internet.

Simply put, the 18 U.S.C. 1801 video voyeurism law makes it a federal offense to take images of an unsuspecting individual, almost always a female, who is nude or partially nude without permission and under a situation when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The jurisdictional element makes this statute challenging, but it includes federal parks, property, and buildings. The “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States” is defined under 18 U.S.C. 7 and includes the following:

  • High seas,
  • Vessels on the Great Lakes;
  • Aircraft in flight over the high seas or waters within the United States;
  • Military, diplomatic, or consular bases in foreign nations;
  • Any U.S. territory not under state jurisdiction;

This law applies when unlawful images are taken with a cellphone, camera, or any other recording device.

Again, it's essential to understand that a "reasonable expectation of privacy" means the victim believed they could undress without their private parts being captured because they were not publicly visible. 18 U.S. Code  2261A defines the federal crime of stalking.

What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1801?

If you were accused of violating 18 U.S.C. 1801 video voyeurism law, our federal criminal defense lawyers could use different strategies to obtain the best possible outcome, as discussed below.

Maybe we could argue that the alleged victim did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, suppose they were voluntarily half-naked in public view. In that case, even without their permission to be photographed, claiming they had privacy is unreasonable.

Maybe we could argue that you did not intentionally capture images of nudity or violate somebody's privacy. For example, suppose you are an independent journalist and unintentionally capture a woman undressing. In that case, it could be argued that you did not have the intent to commit video voyeurism.

18 U.S. Code § 1801 - Federal Crime of Video Voyeurism
It's a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. 1801 to take private area pictures when privacy is reasonable.

Maybe we could argue that you had consent from the alleged victim. Recall that under the definition of 18 U.S.C. 1801, it's only a crime to capture someone's private parts without their permission.

Maybe we can argue that you were conducting authorized surveillance. 18 U.S.C. 1801(c) says, “This section does not prohibit any lawful law enforcement, correctional, or intelligence activity.”

Maybe we can negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a reduced charge or a case dismissal. Perhaps we can convince the government that there is insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. If guilt is not in doubt, it might be possible to negotiate a favorable plea bargain.

Federal criminal cases are more severe than state cases, and you will need legal representation with experience in federal laws and procedures.

You can contact our law firm for a free case evaluation by phone or using 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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