The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that it is not illegal to secretly photograph underneath a person’s clothing without her consent. The ruling came as the case of a man with “Peeping Tom” charges against him reached the state’s high court.
The case involved Michael Robertson, 32. Robertson was caught by police taking videos and photographs of women wearing skirts while they sat across from him on public transportation. An undercover operation by police found Robertson aiming his camera directly between the women’s legs.
But, according to current Massachusetts law, Robertson was doing nothing illegal. The laws he was charged under state that prosecutors must prove the women being photographed had a reasonable expectation of privacy on the train and were nude or partially nude when the pictures were taken.
The court ruled that prosecutors failed to prove these requirements.
“A female passenger on a MBTA trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is ‘partially nude,’ no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing,” the court’s ruling said. “Because the MBTA is a public transit system operating in a public place and uses cameras, the two alleged victims here were not in a place and circumstance where they reasonably would or could have had an expectation of privacy.”
All charges against Robertson were dropped.
Justice Margot Botsford said the idea of a law making Robertson’s behavior illegal “is eminently reasonable, but the existing law in its current form does not address it.”
Massachusetts legislators followed the case and have acted swiftly to enact new laws that would make conduct like Robertson’s illegal in the future.
Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray said she was “stunned and disappointed” by the court’s ruling and promised the “Senate will act swiftly.”
“We have fought too hard and too long for women’s rights to take the step backward that they did today,” she said.
Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo echoed Murray’s sentiments in a statement released Wednesday.
“The ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court is contrary to the spirit of the current law,” DeLeo said. “The House will begin work on updating our statutes to conform with today’s technology immediately.”