US cell phone camera law might not really click

Although its intent seems to be in the right place, a newly proposed US law imposing an audible alert on cell phone cameras raises thorny issues about actual implementation in the real world.

Along the same lines as existing laws in Japan and Korea, the Camera Phone Predator Alert Act now introduced into US Congress is aimed at thwarting sexual predators.

"Congress finds that children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone," according to US Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York sponsoring the measure.

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The law would "require any mobile phone containing a digital camera to sound a tone whenever a photograph is taken." Furthermore, companies would be barred from outfitting the phones with mechanisms for disabling the alerts.

But if the already controversial legislation ever gets passed, it could inflict an annoyance and intrusion on the entire (and huge) population of US cell phone owners, while still letting predators prowl practically unabated.

If other approaches to silencing the audible alert didn't work, an enterprising person could always place a piece of tape on the phone's speaker -- or maybe drown out the sound of the "click" by coughing, laughing, turning on a radio, or...yes...flushing a toilet.

As written, the law is supposed to be enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. But how is that going to happen, exactly? Will the federal agency assign staff members to lurk in public restrooms, with watchful eyes (and ears) trained on any BlackBerry gadgets and other cellular gizmos that make an appearance?

Other questions remain unanswered, too. Would the new law apply only to new phones, or would it be retroactive? If the first of these possibilities ensued, consumers might just hang on to their existing phones for quite a long while, maybe spurring sales slumps in future generations of iPhones and Android devices.

If the latter possibility came to pass, would manufacturers and wireless service providers need to recall the zillions of cell phones already out there in the installed base, retrofitting them with click alerts?

After a while, in the din of everyday life, would most people start to tune out the click sounds, anyway? Who even listens to car alarms any more, for instance?

On the other hand, a cell phone camera has already acted to stop a predator on at least one occasion. But the camera in this case didn't have an audible tone -- and it was wielded by a potential victim, as opposed to a perpetrator. Back in 2003, a 15-year-old boy in Clifton, NJ got lured into a car by an man who offered to drive him to Passaic to look for girls, according to an account in a local newspaper.

When the older man showed signs of being a pervert, the boy managed to get out of the car. But the abductor kept following the teen down the street until the 15-year-old pulled out his Sprint phone and started snapping pictures.

Police were later able to identify and arrest that particular sexual predator based on a license plate in the cell phone photos.

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