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Patrick signs bill to ban ‘upskirting’

Voyeurs, beware. It is now illegal to surreptitiously take photographs under a woman’s skirt in Massachusetts.

Two days after the state’s highest court sparked outrage when it ruled that state law allows people to take such photos, Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill today to ban the practice, known as “upskirting.”

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The legislation sailed through the House and Senate Thursday, a day after the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state’s voyeurism law did not specifically prohibit people from secretly photographing under a woman’s clothing. It was a rare act of swift action in a Legislature often known for its glacial approach to making laws.

“It shows they can do it when they want to,” Patrick told reporters today, as he walked into a Cabinet meeting at the State House.

The court ruling came in the case of an Andover man accused of snapping photos of women who sat across from him wearing skirts on an MBTA trolley in 2010.

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In its unanimous ruling, the high court said prosecutors did not prove that he violated two key aspects of the voyeurism law, which was written before cellphones were in wide use. They failed to prove the women were photographed while nude or partially nude and that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy on the T.

Under the bill signed Friday, it will now be a misdemeanor to take secret photos and videos of “the sexual or other intimate parts of a person under or around the person’s clothing.” The law would apply to times when a “reasonable person” would believe those parts of their body would not be publicly visible.

Distributing those images could lead to felony charges and prison time.

The bill would also expand penalties for secretly taking photos and videos of “the sexual or other intimate parts of a child.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.
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