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IPFS News Link • Lawsuits

Greitens case could test the definition of 'privacy' in the smartphone era


In 1994, officials in Buffalo, Mo., made a discovery that sent shock waves through the tiny town: The owner of a local tanning salon had hidden a camera in the latticework above a dressing area, and had videotaped more than 100 women and girls in various states of nudity.

Then came the aftershock: Authorities initially said they couldn't charge the man with any crime. There was nothing on Missouri's books specifically prohibiting what he had done.

That scandal helped create the law under which Gov. Eric Greitens was indicted Thursday. Because of the tanning salon case and others, it has been illegal in Missouri for more than 20 years to take a person's photo without permission when that person is in a state of undress in a place where there is a "reasonable expectation of privacy." If that picture is transmitted to a computer, it goes from misdemeanor to felony.

The big question going forward is whether what Greitens allegedly did — photographing a semi-nude paramour without her permission during an otherwise consensual sexual liaison — can be prosecuted under that law.

» RELATED: Post-Dispatch coverage of the Greitens scandal

In a filing last week, Greitens' legal team insisted it can't.

"The law ... applies to situations such as voyeurs and peeping toms who take photographs in locations such as restrooms, tanning beds, changing rooms and bedrooms," Greitens' attorney, James F. Bennett, argues in the motion to dismiss that he filed late Thursday, hours after Greitens was indicted and booked in St. Louis.

The law, Bennett argues, was never meant to apply to situations "where individuals involved were jointly participating in sexual activity."