New paper: Visual Surveillance and Voyeurism in Criminal Law

A new paper I’ve written with colleagues at Tilburg University and Melbourne Law School has just been accepted to Law & Social Inquiry. We expect publication in mid-2018. Information below:

The Reasonableness of Remaining Unobserved: A Comparative Analysis of Visual Surveillance and Voyeurism in Criminal Law

Bert-Jaap Koops, Bryce Clayton Newell, Andrew Roberts, Ivan Škorvánek, and Maša Galič

The criminalization of offensive behavior is an important form of privacy protection, but few studies exist of visual observation in criminal law. We address this gap by researching when nonconsensual visual observation is deemed harmful enough to trigger criminal sanctions, and on what basis the law construes the “reasonableness of remaining unobserved,” through a nine-country comparative study (Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, UK, and US). We distinguish between a voyeurism-centric approach (focusing largely on nudity and sex) and a broader, intrusion-centric approach (such as observation inside closed spaces). Both approaches explicitly or implicitly reflect “reasonable” privacy expectations, by listing criteria for situations in which people can reasonably expect to remain unobserved or unrecorded. We discuss these criteria to present a framework for criminalizing nonconsensual visual observation, encompassing factors of technology use, place, subject matter, and surreptitiousness that create substantial disruptions in impression management, supplemented by factors of intent, identifiability, and counter-indicators to prevent overcriminalization. We explain this framework as relevant for protecting visual aspects of privacy in view of individuals’ underlying interests in autonomy, and show how visual-observation crimes can be interpreted as ways to assist people in their impression management in situations where disruptions occur in self-presentation and where normal techniques of rebalancing impressions provide insufficient redress. Discussing whether legal frameworks reflect contemporary socio-technical realities, we observe a gap in legal protection relating to non-covert taking of autonomy-undermining images in public as a major up-coming challenge to impression management.