Cell Phone, Camera Technology Can Truly Be a Double-Edged Sword

Published on: 11/21/2012

Recently, a friend of mine was at a local YMCA to attend his son’s first swimming lessons. Without even thinking about it, he took out his camera to take a few pictures. After all, he wanted to preserve some great family memories in the same way his parents did when he was young.

Unfortunately and sadly, times have changed. He was promptly told, ‘No, you can’t do that’ and he immediately understood why. Pictures taken in this kind of setting have a high potential for being used improperly.

Today’s cell phone camera technology is simply amazing. Unfortunately, never has the potential for its abuse been greater. Perhaps, a photo is sent as a private joke from one person to another. Or, thanks to Facebook, a risqué photo can be shared instantly with the rest of the world.

So often, especially where it concerns our teens, improper photos are shared without giving any thought to the potential consequences. Take the case of 17 year-old Zachary T. Cook whose arrest for burglary in a Mount Pleasant home also resulted in police finding his cell phone. The phone contained photos he took exposing himself and then sent to an underage girl. When the police examined his phone, they also found text messages referring to breaking into homes.

Cook was charged in Racine County Circuit Court with one count of burglary, two counts of exposing his genitals and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. If convicted, he faces up to 10 ½ years in prison and $45,000 in fines.

Obviously, abusing his cell phone technology is only a part of Cook’s case, but it serves as an important red flag for our purposes here. Abusing phone technology in this manner has a widespread and sordid history. If you take a picture and send it to an underage individual or an underage individual takes pictures of himself or herself, there’s an electronic “paper trail” and it comes back to haunt people time and time again.

In Cook’s case, he probably didn’t even think twice about taking the photos and sending them along to the underage girl. He certainly gave no thought to the possible ramifications and now he faces felony charges for exposing a child to harmful material. 

Cook’s case also reminds us that, in Wisconsin, if you are 17 you are an adult for criminal prosecution purposes. Seventeen year-olds are not under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court system. They’re adults and they’re charged as adults.

It’s all the more reason for parents to make themselves aware of the kinds of photos and messages their kids are sending. Yes, it’s easier said than done. But parents need to make the effort to see how their teens are using their cell phones, cameras and the social media. 

Adults also need to think about where photos they transmit could eventually end up. For example, a guy is sitting next to his buddy at a party and the friend takes a photo. The next thing you know, that photo can literally be transmitted around the world. I cringe when I go on Facebook and see photos and text written by people I know. In an instant, improper pictures and language are transmitted and all of it can later be used against them in a court of law.

What’s more, the problem doesn’t always end with the person who sent the picture. What about the person who received the photo? What did they do with it? Perhaps they sent it to a third party, ushering in the concept of a photo “going viral.”

Again, parents need to take advantage of every opportunity to use these news stories as teaching moments. To the best extent you can, impress upon your child that this problem is very real. You’re not making some idle threat. Peoples’ lives can be destroyed by this kind of behavior.

As the problem of improper use of cell phones and the social media continues to grow,   police and schools are getting savvier, searching phones and scanning Facebook. They are also getting more aggressive in obtaining search warrants to check things out.

Remember, if you do this sort of thing, your digital fingerprint will be there. Maybe you thought you erased the pictures but there is plenty of software out there to retrieve deleted images. Is your initial “thrill” or attempt at “humor” really worth risking criminal charges?