There have been many news reports about the sad story of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Authorities said that Clementi committed suicide three days after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, secretly used his computer’s Webcam to broadcast Clementi having sex with another man. Authorities said that Ravi turned his Webcam on remotely from the room of a classmate, Molly Wei.
Ravi and Wei have each been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy for using “the camera to view and transmit a live image” of Clementi, the New York Times reports. “Mr. Ravi was charged with two additional counts of invasion of privacy for trying a similar live feed on the Internet on Sept. 21, the day before the suicide.”
Secret surveillance and publication of intimate moments is a privacy violation that we’ve seen before. In 2008, a lesbian couple was having sex in their own bedroom in a college dormitory in Boston. Neighbors in a building across the alley saw the activities and videotaped the couple. Then they posted the video online.
In the ensuing uproar, the perpetrators blamed the victims. “This all would have never happened if their windows were closed,” David Siemiesz, one of the men charged, told the Boston Globe. He also said, “I didn’t feel like a creep […] I didn’t feel like a Peeping Tom. I felt like this type of thing happens a lot.”
In a 2008 case in Wisconsin, one outside the university context, Mark Jahnke argued he was allowed to secretly tape sex with his girlfriend and her walking around nude in his home. He claimed the woman had no expectation of privacy because she consented to be nude around him, and, therefore, his conviction should be thrown out.
The state appeals court rejected (pdf) Jahnke’s argument and upheld his conviction under the state’s anti-video voyeurism law (pdf), which makes it a felony to “Capture a representation that depicts nudity without the knowledge and consent of the person who is depicted nude while that person is nude in a circumstance in which he or she has a reasonable expectation of privacy, if the person knows or has reason to know that the person who is depicted nude does not know of and consent to the capture of the representation.”