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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tape Dorm Roommate's Sex, Do Not Pass Go, Go To Jail?

At press time it is strongly suspected that an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman committed suicide after video of his romantic/sexual encounter with another man in his college dorm may have hit the Internet. The young man's 18-year-old dorm roommate -- who is suspected of taping the encounter using a webcam (perhaps the video recorder now common on laptops) -- and another 18-year-old student are facing third-degree (criminal) felony charges stemming from the sexual voyeurism and videotaping without consent of the act(s). More criminal charges -- perhaps even federal criminal charges on the basis of deprivation of civil rights -- could be coming.

The young man's suicide (if indeed that is the case) is tragic. The acts of the other two students, also young adults, were immoral, inconsiderate and harmful. But they were not criminal, in my opinion.

This case will illustrate the overcriminalization of behavior of which some -- but not all -- disapprove. As gay rights will soon be interjected into this tragedy, expect a push for greater criminal charges against the two other Rutgers students as a way to compel approval (which is distinct from legal acceptance and tolerance),, by and among the general (heterosexual) population, of all types of non-traditional sex (that is, anything other than between a man and woman married to each other). The gay rights lobbies can also be expected to try to impute the lowest of motives against anyone espousing "traditional" values (no matter that they are irrelevant to this case or the tragedy) and to use the legal system to punish with jail time anyone who dares to espouse such values or oppose the gay rights agenda.

Let me be clear: This tragedy is not about gay rights. And the tragedy, and the pain of one North Jersey family, should not be callously exploited by those who wish to achieve "equality" for all gays (e.g., to silence all political speech by anyone not fully endorsing gay rights, gay marriage, gay adoption, and don't ask-don't tell-in-the-military). But expect this tragedy to become the newest flashpoint by those who wish to advance their push -- not for legal equality -- but for their notion of a social equality with conventional mores. This notion requires the silencing of all sources of social, religious or cultural opposition, and in fact anyone who is insufficiently vocal in their approval, under pain of criminal prosecution.

It will be under such distorted social and political pressures that the stupid juvenile pranks of two 18-year-olds will be evaluated.

In reality, their indiscretions took a much more tragic turn because their harmful effect, their power to embarrass, was enhanced by the power of current technology to spy upon and disseminate at no cost and little difficulty moments which two decades ago would have been entirely private. Had these events occurred 20 years ago, the humiliation factor would not have been present -- or would have theoretically been less severe.

The fact that our youth can use the new tools of technology does not mean our youth can be trusted to use them well...or to make the sharp judgments to appreciate the dangers of certain actions.

Perhaps our collective failure to appreciate the destructive uses of technology is to blame. Perhaps most of all, we need to assess as a society whether our youth is old enough to be trusted with certain gadgets.

We don't let 20-year-olds drink alcohol, because we have decided as a society that youth cannot drink responsibly. Perhaps the same assessment should be made with certain technologies.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who writes on issues involving science, technology, privacy and civil rights, and government regulation. He is available for comment or consultation at 917-696-2442 and at

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