Will suburban Elk Grove Village be the Ft. Sumter of the American privacy revolution?

Here’s hoping.

If so, Elk Grove Park District Commissioner Ron Nunes will go down in history as the soldier who fired the first shot by proposing a ban on the use of camera-equipped cell phones in locker areas, shower facilities and restrooms at park facilities.

The proposal is likely to receive final approval at the commission’s Nov. 13 meeting, said Park District Executive Director Barbara Heller. And Nunes said he’s already getting traction in his effort to persuade village trustees to enact a similar ban covering all municipal buildings.

“It’s kind of scary what people can do with these phones,” said Nunes, 44, owner of an insurance agency in Roselle. “They can take your picture or your kid’s picture without you even knowing it, then post it to the Internet in about 30 seconds.”

No one has yet done this in Elk Grove Village as far as Nunes knows. He said his inspiration came when he picked up a newspaper in a doctor’s waiting room and read an account of camera-phone abuses elsewhere, and when he saw that extremely icky “new boyfriend?” TV spot.

In that commercial, a young woman sees her friend’s new boyfriend sloppily scarfing down a sandwich at a lunchroom counter. She produces her Sprint PCS camera-equipped cell phone, snaps a photo of the young man in flagrante disgusto, and transmits it to her friend along with the catty question, “Don’t you just love your new boyfriend?” “It’s a big reminder of all the potential problems,” said Nunes of the commercial.

“Taking pictures of people surreptitiously is not considered good form, and we don’t condone it,” said Dan Wilinsky, director of media relations for Sprint PCS. “You’ll notice that the guy with the mess on his face is giving a thumbs up for the camera. That’s an expression of tacit approval.”

But Nunes and I, at least, see it as clumsy flirtation by a numbskull who has no idea that what looks like a telephone in the young woman’s hand is actually a digital camera. And it underscores that–no matter what the manufacturers intend–these hybrid devices can be spy gadgets.

News files contain anecdotal reports of camera phones being used to snap voyeuristic photos, unauthorized photos of corpses and photos of rape victims taken by their attackers.

“What this technology does is democratize the invasion of privacy,” Yale University Law School professor and Information Society Project director Jack Balkin said in an interview with Tribune reporter Maureen Ryan on Monday. “Instead of one Big Brother, [we have] a lot of little brothers.”

How many little brothers? Last month, Strategy Analytics, an industry research and consulting firm, projected that 2003 will see sales of 65 million camera phones–13 percent of all cell phones sold and more than the total sales of conventional digital cameras. It estimated that 800 million camera phones will be sold by 2008.

So if you want to pick your nose in public, I’d suggest doing it now.

Scotland and Ireland have reportedly banned use of camera phones in public buildings, while Saudi Arabia has prohibited them altogether. Responding to fears that pedophiles were covertly taking pictures of children at public pools, several British communities banned them from bathing areas.

Several Chicago-area YMCA’s have responded to privacy concerns by banning all cell phone use–you can’t always tell at a glance which phones are also cameras.

But the ban in Elk Grove Village will be the first in the nation passed by an elected park board, according to Barry Tindall, director of public policy for the National Recreation and Park Association in Washington. Tindall said he was aware of no other jurisdiction with such a policy, which he called “very appropriate and rational.”

Though perhaps futile.

Ft. Sumter? I wish. The shrinking and camouflaging of everyday photographic equipment, however cool and even useful, looks more like the Waterloo for the idea of privacy in public.

When the world crawls with 800 million Allan Funts, we’ll always be on Candid Camera and no one will be smiling about it.

Don’t you just love your new technology?
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