Age not factor in violation of privacy

By Ned Cantwell: State Columnist

A recently passed anti-crime law in Texas requires criminals to give their victims 24 hours notice, either orally or in writing, and to explain the nature of the crime to be committed.

That’s what it says on a “strange laws” Internet Web site, which may be about as credible as a New Mexico state treasurer. You have to wonder whether these Web sites aren’t the product of wild imaginations with too much time on their hands.

Are we to believe it is against the law to hunt camels in Arizona, or ride your horse up the stairs at the country courthouse in Prescott? Closer to home, is it really against the law to carry a lunch box down Main Street in Las Cruces or for a woman to appear unshaven in public in Carrizozo?

Here’s a New Mexico legal outrage that does not come from a Web site. Its source is the prestigious Santa Fe New Mexican. It is not against the law to use a hidden camera to photograph women going to the bathroom unless they are minors.

Let me get this straight: It is illegal to jaywalk in New Mexico but it is OK to secretly tape women using the restroom?

The details: This guy allegedly hid a camera in the bathroom at the Department of Transportation building in Santa Fe. Then, in a closet of his office, the closet sharing a common wall with the bathroom, he set up videotaping equipment he could switch on at will.

These allegations were made in a district court lawsuit by four women who are suing the state, the Department of Transportation, and the alleged perp himself. The guy, who began working in the department in 1981, is no longer there. Did he quit? Was he fired? Who knows? A department spokesman told me they just can’t release that information. One can’t be too careful.

He worked in the human relations department and pulled down about 40,000 bucks a year. The fellow apparently had a lot of time on his hands. According to the New Mexican story by Jason Auslander, the lawsuit alleges he would start taping when “someone he was interested in entered the bathroom.”

If ever the cliché “get a life” made sense, this is the case.

The four women contend the taping caused them “shame and embarrassment,” that they became objects of “derision and amusement” by co-workers, resulting in a hostile uncomfortable environment for their work, and made them “the subject of coarse jokes and remarks.”

Sounds like a real fun place to work. “Coarse jokes and remarks” aimed at women who have been put through this humiliation? Don’t you know their office Christmas party is a doozy.

The whole mess is an outrage, but no facet more objectionable than the absence of a New Mexico statute banning this gross violation of privacy. Barbara Romo, deputy district attorney, said many adult females who work at the Department of Transportation are outraged that there is no criminal prohibition against a hidden camera in their bathroom. As well they should be.

In the meantime, the former human relations specialist does face nine counts of criminal sexual exploitation of a minor in connection with videotaping allegations. These charges had to do with two young girls who worked there over the summer of 2004.

Attention lawmakers: Your regular session is fast approaching. Someone needs to drop into the hopper a Naughty Candid Camera bill.

Ned Cantwell of Ruidoso is a retired newspaper publisher and member of the New Mexico Press Association Hall of Fame. E-mail him at: ncantwell@charter.net