U.K. fears camera phones’ use by pedophiles

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Although the following does not involve a Redwoods insured YMCA, we want to impress upon you the role each of us plays in providing a safe environment.

“U.K. fears camera phones’ use by pedophiles”
Cellphones banned at swimming pools, gyms
By Jennifer Carlile, MSNBC
reprinted without permission

LONDON, England: June 19 — Advances in cellphone technology have spurred an insidious new threat — the use of the increasingly popular camera phones by pedophiles to photograph children. Across Britain, swimming pools and sports facilities have cracked down on their use while the YMCA in the Australian state of Victoria has also imposed a ban. Officials have yet to raise a clamor in the United States, where the devices have only recently become widely available.

U.K. PARENTS AND child protection agencies say they worry that pedophiles will use the state-of-the-art camera phones to surreptitiously photograph children in changing rooms, instantly mailing the pictures around the world or posting them on pornographic websites.

Britain’s Home Office, the country’s main policing body, joined recreation and child protection agencies recently issued a guidance statement warning of the potential risks involved with the new technology.

Sport facilities across the country have since addressed the issue and many have decided to put up signs alerting the public that camera phones are banned on their premises. “There was an incident in one center. No-one had realized the potential threat (of camera phones) before, but the huge potential from the one incident alerted us to what could be a significant problem,” said Ralph Riley, director of the privately run Institute of Sport and Recreation Management. Riley declined to give details of the incident. He added that people have always been asked to use traditional and digital cameras “with discretion in a swimming pool” and that photography will continue to be allowed with special permission.

Meanwhile, a local authority the area of Manchester in northwest England has issued a statement that anyone wishing to use any camera, including camera phones, will have “on their person a visible sticker authorizing consent if challenged by a member of staff or public.”

BAN NOT EASY TO ENFORCE

Though few disagree with the ban, most agree that its enforcement will not be easy. Unless swimmers spot the culprit eye-to-eye, the sound produced by the click of the camera’s simulated shutter would likely be drowned out by youngsters’ shouts resonating through tiled changing rooms. A spokesman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said pool patrons should “leave such phones at reception,” and that “there should also be designated and trained members of staff to help people to report their concerns if they see someone taking a picture.”

Concerns have spread around the world. In Australia, the YMCA of Sydney rejected a push to accept the ban because it was deemed too difficult to enforce. Sydney’s decision was taken despite a ban now in effect for the

110 YMCA facilities in the state of Victoria, and after a man pleaded guilty to filming young girls in a pool changing room in Melbourne.

In Asia, a fitness club with nine gyms in Hong Kong recently posted signs forbidding the use of camera phones in its locker rooms. And in nearby Macau, the devices have come under scrutiny in casinos and will likely be banned soon, according to media reports.

SCRAMBLING THE SIGNAL

A costly, futuristic way of preventing pedophile photographers would involve scrambling radio signals so that cellular phones could not be used at all in changing areas. Japan and Australia have allowed such systems, known as GSM jamming, to prevent noisy interruptions at venues such as theaters. However, jamming systems are illegal in Britain and can disturb emergency communication signals. They may also have an impact on cellular phone usage in proximity to the designated area.

“With the introduction of new developments, such as wall-lining materials which significantly reduce the power of radio signals (recently tried in Japan), it may be possible to avoid using jamming devices and localize areas to be mobile (cellular)-free,” said Tom Perrott, director, of TNS Telecoms, a telecommunications information company, in a press release on the TNS website.

However, such legislation could break the bank for most cell phone operators.

CAMERA PHONES IN CRIMINAL ACTS

Primarily due to the limited availability of camera phones, the vast majority of countries have not considered the ban. Local recreation officials have raised the issue in Boulder, Colo., but the ban has not been discussed at a national level in the United States. “That’s the very first I’ve heard of it,” said Lili McGovern, manager of aquatic services for the National Recreation and Park Association. “I don’t know that cell phones with cameras are that widely used right now (in the United States). I believe cell technology is more advanced in Europe and Asia than here.”

Experts say that as the use of camera phones becomes more widespread, their involvement in criminal activity will likely increase. Police in southern England are currently investigating a case in which bystanders allegedly used a video-equipped cell phone to film the rape of a woman in a bar bathroom. Questions are also being raised concerning the use of similar technology in strip clubs.

“On the flip side there are plenty of examples of positive use,” said Toby Robson, senior press officer for Vodafone, a cellular telecommunications company. For example, “doctors can use camera phones to send x-rays (to specialists) and receive information on them right away.” “Our message is that technology has to be used responsibly,” said Robson.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has decided that the risk camera phones present outweighs their benefit and has adopted a simple prevention plan: Saudi authorities have banned the devices from the kingdom all together.

“New mobile phone cameras ring alarm bells in Australian locker rooms”

CANBERRA, Australia: June 11 — New mobile phones that can take photographs have begun ringing alarm bells in locker rooms across Australia, with hundreds of sports centers banning them amid privacy concerns.

The Victoria state branch of the YMCA last week banned all mobile phones from change rooms in its 110 sports centers. On Wednesday, the national head of the YMCA, Bob Nicholson said he was now advising all other states to follow Victoria's lead. He said some 300 YMCA centers had now adopted the policy, but others were still considering the idea.

The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia has also advised staff at more than 3,000 public swimming pools across Australia to keep a watchful eye and if necessary ban mobile phones from change rooms. “Our concern is really with the current generation of mobile phones in that they have Webcams built into them,” said Royal Life Saving Society of Victoria chief executive Norm Farmer. “They're so small and compact. We're concerned about people's privacy, and private parts being shown to all and sundry.”

Victorian state Attorney-General Rob Hulls said Wednesday the government would review the state's privacy laws to ensure they would cover new and emerging technology.

What we do know:

  • cameras in cell phones are only the tip of the proverbial ice burg…the same miniature devices are found as stand-alone units and as implants in jewelry such as necklace pendants and broaches
  • since the phone does not have to be open to take pictures, monitoring usage is very difficult
  • blocking transmission of the phone signal only solves a portion of the problem… most (if not all) phones have the capacity to store multiple images, not just immediately transmit them

What we don’t know:

  • how to quickly and easily determine if a cell phone does or does not have photo capabilities
  • who might use such a camera improperly…
    • it might be someone “getting even” for some perceived injustice…
    • or, perhaps, someone playing a practical joke on a classmate…
    • or, possibly, a pedophile pursuing his lusts with an innocent-looking new tool…

What must be remembered:

  • it is our responsibility to try to keep those in our facilities safe from harm… whatever the source
  • places where people undress or wear limited attire, like locker rooms or swimming pools, are magnets for people with inappropriate intentions
  • it is no secret when children will be in our facilities, using our locker rooms or our pools… if the kids and their parents know, so do the predators

What we should do:

  • communicate with members…clearly explain the potential for harm…verbally, via newsletter, by signage, and most importantly, by our resolve and our actions
  • enlist the assistance of members, participants, and guests…have them help prevent unauthorized use of such equipment anywhere in the facility, but especially in locker rooms and pool areas
  • ban the use of such devices (this may involve banning any cell phone because of the difficulty of differentiation), especially in locker rooms, exercise rooms, and around spas and swimming pools
  • provide adequate and appropriate supervision throughout our facilities, especially in areas with more potential for abuse and at times when children are present and vulnerable (day camp, after-school programming, swimming lessons)

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about YMCA risk management issues.

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