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The Peeping Pervs Go One Step Too Far

           This morning’s Boston Globe reports on the criminal prosecution and college disciplinary proceeding simultaneously pending against two Wentworth Institute of Technology male students who had the bad sense (and bad grace) to videotape two female Massachusetts College of Art and Design students having an intimate moment in bed in a dormitory within all-too-easy sight range. The video ended up on Wentworth’s file sharing system and was widely disseminated around the city, although it is believed that a friend of the videographers was responsible for that.

Massachusetts law does not criminalize the surreptitious video recording of unsuspecting people; currently, only secret audio recording is a crime. However, Massachusetts does have a more general “peeping Tom” statute that has formed the basis for the pending prosecution. And Wentworth, being a private college, can penalize such conduct under any number of rubrics. So, it’s pretty clear that these two morons will not get away with their indiscretion.

            This said, one has to admit that defendant David Siemiesz, one of the Wentworth juniors being prosecuted, had a bit of a point when he told the Globe’s Maria Cramer: “This all would have never happened if their windows were closed” and if the shades were drawn and the lights turned out. Sometimes a peeping Tom takes affirmative steps to evade another person’s privacy measures, but in this case the viewing was easy.

            One is reminded of an attempt by the administration of the University of Pennsylvania a few years ago to discipline a student who, from his dorm window, photographed a student couple who were making love in a dorm room across a courtyard. The lovebirds not only were taking no steps to protect their privacy, but were seemingly reveling in the exhibitionism of the moment, as the female of the couple was pushed up against the window while the male did his thing – all obviously meant for the eyes of the passers-by in the busy courtyard below.Campus disciplinary officials, facing an outcry in support of the student photographer, dropped the investigation.

            The Wentworth case seems to be in the middle: The two women were not seemingly trying to advertise their tryst, but they did not take adequate and simple steps to try to protect their privacy either. The two “Toms” did not have to take any extraordinary steps in order to peep. So it’s not quite as clear-cut a criminal “peeping Tom” case as one might suppose, or wish. Still, the betting here is that Wentworth will take severe action – if for no other reason than that the two male students embarrassed the institution. But the prosecutors likely will be a bit more moderate.

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