Tennessee bill seeks to make taking offensive, nonconsensual photos of others illegal

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Local state lawmakers and the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office want Tennessee’s law dealing with unlawful photography expanded.

New legislation targets those who take “embarrassing” and “offensive” photos of others without consent and for sexual arousal or gratification purposes.

Current state law says people willingly out in public do not have an expectation of privacy. This prevailing case law allowed a court of appeals to dismiss unlawful photography charges against a Sullivan County man last year. This was after the defendant, David Eric Lambert, was originally found guilty after taking ‘close up’ photos of women in Kingsport stores in 2016.

SEE ALSO: ‘Unlawful photography’ charges dismissed against Sullivan Co. man, DA’s Office seeks legislative action

“Obviously our office wasn’t happy with the results of those decisions,” said Assistant District Attorney William Harper.

Harper said other Sullivan County residents were also upset over the Court of Appeals decision.

“Under the prior law, if you were some place like Walmart, out shopping, pumping gas, you didn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in those areas,” said Harper. “If someone came up and took a picture of your intimate part, there was no crime because of the fact of where you were.”

The DA’s office worked with state lawmakers to craft an update to the current statute. This bill says you can’t take a picture of someone without their consent for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal. This applies to pictures that would offend or embarrass that person, or is focused on an intimate part of their body.

Rep. John Crawford (R-Kingsport) and Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) introduced the legislation this session.

“I want to be really careful,” Lundberg told News Channel 11. “Because I don’t want people to think, hey, if you’re outside and you take a picture of a park and there’s women, men in there, that’s not illegal. What’s a clear distinction in here, is the intent of why that photo was taken.”

People would face a Class A misdemeanor if the offense was against an adult, and a Class D felony if committed against a minor.

“And if the jury finds it was taken for sexual gratification, that’s what elevates it to an illegal act,” said Lundberg.

The legislation updates a statute last amended in 2018 to target photos taken in an offensive manner, such as photographing up someone’s skirt.

“What the changes to the law do, as I’ve read the bill, is they take the focus away from where the person is, and puts the emphasis on what they’re taking a photograph of,” said Harper.

If the legislation passes, it would go into effect July 1st of this year.

“I think we very well could see this go into effect this year,” said Lundberg. “One of the things I’ll be curious about, frankly, is with every bill that’s filed, we put a fiscal cost on it. I’m hoping this is not something that is a commonplace occurrence. If it is, frankly, then it’s all the more reason why we need this legislation.”

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