ANNAPOLIS – In a low quavering voice, a Silver Spring school teacher told state lawmakers Tuesday how she was secretly filmed for six months by a neighbor who had installed hidden cameras in her bathroom and dressing room.
“It was like being raped, like being stalked,” the woman said during anonymous testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. “And it was in my own home.”
Fidgeting nervously, her husband at her side, the brunette in her early 40s said she felt even worse after learning that her neighbor’s spying was not a crime under Maryland law.
She and a Rockville woman with a similar story urged lawmakers to broaden an existing law that outlaws hidden cameras in department store dressing rooms and bathrooms but does not cover cases such as theirs.
Under a bill proposed by Del. Dana L. Dembrow, D-Montgomery, filming someone secretly in a “private place” without a court order would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Trespassing to install a hidden camera would be a felony punishable by up to a decade behind bars.
A “private place” is defined as any place “where a person may reasonably expect to be safe from an intrusion or surveillance.” The bill should not hinder police or television news crews from using hidden cameras for undercover stings, Dembrow said.
He surprised colleagues at the afternoon hearing by suddenly challenging them to find a hidden camera he had installed in the hearing room a week earlier. When they couldn’t, he reached toward a table behind committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. and produced a small black box that looked like a speaker but was actually a camera, he said.
The other victim who testified, 20-year-old Jennifer Smith, fought back tears as she described how she had been secretly filmed in the locker room of a public pool where she was working as a lifeguard.
Smith, 17 at the time, said her supervisor at the Montgomery County Aquatic Center used a camera hidden in a duffle bag to make videotapes he then showed to other male workers. She learned of the tapes from the other workers after two months.
“I didn’t know how many people were laughing, smirking about it behind my back,” she told lawmakers.
The supervisor was arrested and found guilty by a county judge. But the conviction was overturned on appeal, Smith testified.
Later, she sued her assailant and Montgomery County in federal court. She was awarded $140,000 in December.
The Silver Spring couple declined to disclose how much they had been paid under an agreement with their persecutor that also required him to move out of the neighborhood and undergo counseling.
In that case, police measured dust on top of the hidden cameras to conclude that the neighbor had been spying for about six months, the couple said. He gained entry to their house with the key they had given him to mind things when they went on vacation.
The spying came to light this past January when the husband discovered a camera the size of a pack of cigarettes in a bathroom heating duct.
Following wires tucked under insulation in the attic, the husband found another camera in his wife’s dressing room. He then followed the wires outside to a drain spout, where they had been recently severed.
Police picked up the trail when they found the other end of the wires buried in the couple’s lawn. They followed them to the neighbor’s house.
The wife said the neighbor confessed to police, telling officers he had “become obsessed with me and wanted to see me all the time – naked.
“There are no words to describe the kind of shock we were feeling – the fear, the horror, the sense of violation,” she said. “It was my home. I had a right to expect privacy.” -30-