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Is it Invasion of Privacy to Have My Camera Phone in a Public Restroom?


Cell phones have many features, including the ability to take photos. Because these devices are so small and portable, you can carry them with you wherever you go. That means if you head into a place such as a public restroom, you'll likely have a camera with you.

But is it illegal to have your camera phone on you in a bathroom? It depends on what you're doing with it. If you're taking selfies in the mirror, you're not committing an offense. However, if you took your device with you to observe or photograph others, you could be charged with a misdemeanor. That's because California has a law on the books that prohibits this type of conduct.

California's invasion of privacy law isn't just concerned with taking a camera phone into a public restroom; it criminalizes three separate types of behaviors. In this blog, we'll look at each in a bit more detail.

Looking Through a Hole or Opening of Specific Areas

The first offense covered by California Penal Code 647(j) is that in which a person observes someone else through a hole or opening.

For a person to be charged under this section of the law, they must have:

  • Looked through a hole or opening,
  • By any means,
  • In an area where someone had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and
  • With the intent to invade that privacy

This means that if you climb up on a ladder to see through the bathroom window at a local cafe and use your phone to record inside, you're breaking the law. Although this blog uses the example of a camera phone, any device used to observe someone else without their consent is prohibited.

A few of the devices mentioned in the invasion of privacy law include:

  • Periscopes,
  • Telescopes,
  • Binoculars,
  • Cameras,
  • Mobile phones, or
  • Electronic devices

Looking Under Someone's Clothes

The second type of conduct California's invasion of privacy law prohibits is using electronic means to record underneath someone's clothing. Again, the type of device used isn't limited to a camera phone.

Under this subsection of the law, a person is illegally invading privacy if they:

  • Record through or under clothing;
  • To view someone else's body or underwear;
  • Without the individual's consent;
  • With the intent to arouse, appeal to, or gratify their own or someone else's sexual desires; and
  • In an area where someone had a reasonable expectation of privacy

If you take your camera phone in a public restroom and place it on the floor to look up women's skirts, you're violating the law.

Recording Someone Else's Body

The third subsection of California Penal Code 647(j) states that it's illegal to use a recording device to take photos or videos of a person who is nude or partially nude. As with the other two sections, a person commits this offense when they act without the other individual's permission and carry out the conduct in a place where privacy was expected.

Setting up your camera phone in the ceiling tiles of a public restroom would be a violation of this subsection of the law.

Are you facing criminal charges in Santa Barbara? If so, contact Appel & Morse by phone at (805) 467-6060 or online to get over 40 years of combined legal experience on your side.

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