College Athletes Fall Victim to Video Voyeurs

August 9, 1999 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

NEW YORK — Unauthorized videotapes of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of naked male athletes in the locker rooms of more than 50 universities are being produced, sold and distributed on sexually oriented sites on the World Wide Web, according to a lawyer representing 200 of the men who were taped.

Without their knowledge, The New York Times reports, the athletes were secretly videotaped at urinals, at showers or weighing in unclothed at competitions.

The tapes were made by employees or students working for video companies. Posing as athletic trainers, they were able to slip into the locker rooms carrying hidden cameras in gym bags. Sometimes a zoom lens was used. The result was a video, with no sound, that later was edited for sale on the Internet or by mail.

The students’ attorney, Louis S. Goldstein of Chicago, filed a lawsuit in Illinois state court late last month seeking a permanent injunction to stop the video producers and Web sites from marketing and displaying the videotapes.

The video companies’ owners were also sued individually, as were a group of Internet service providers, companies that lease the computer space where the videos are posted and promoted.

Commenting on the lawsuit, ACLU Associate Director Barry Steinhardt agreed that the secret tapings were a blatant invasion of privacy. “There is no First Amendment right to be a Peeping Tom,” he said.

But the students’ attorneys erred, he said, in attempting to hold the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) responsible for hosting the Web sites that display and market the videos.

“Internet Service Providers are the functional equivalent of a common carrier — like telephone companies — and as such are immune from liability,” he said. In fact, the 1996 Telecommunications Act specifically exempts ISPs from liability in lawsuits involving websites. That section of the law has been challenged and upheld on numerous occasions, Steinhardt said.

The universities where the taping occurred are identified as Northwestern, Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Pennsylvania, Iowa State, Michigan State, Indiana and Illinois. Two other Ivy League schools besides Penn are also apparently involved, but Goldstein would not identify them.

Because of the hidden-camera taping, Penn is renovating its locker facility, separating the shower section from the rest of the locker room, to address the problem, a spokesman said. Other schools are also tightening security at their locker rooms.

But an athlete who spoke on the condition of anonymity said locker rooms are not the same to him anymore.

“You know, you see a gym bag and you don’t think twice about it,” he said. “But now I do.”

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release