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Lawmakers raise concerns over shadowing of Ill. candidate

Seek 'privacy zone' to bar videotaping

CHICAGO -- Anywhere US Senate candidate Barack Obama went, it seemed Justin Warfel, video camera in hand, was just a step away. Giving a speech, shaking hands with supporters, walking to the men's room -- everywhere.

Obama's Republican rival, former investment banker Jack Ryan, hired the 24-year-old videographer to shadow Obama, an Illinois state senator. The Ryan campaign wanted to record his public statements to see whether the Democrat's message on issues remained consistent. It was up close and personal, but perfectly legal, the campaign said. It then agreed to back off, but is still videotaping Obama's public appearances.

But others in Chicago, including powerful Alderman Edward M. Burke, were outraged by what they said amounted to video stalking. So last week, Burke proposed creating a 20-foot "zone of personal privacy" for city residents, a sort of bubble around people to protect them against unwanted pictures or secret audiotapes.

"It creates a privacy bubble around a person," Burke said. "We thought maybe we could create a code that if people are going to take someone else's photo in public that they have to do it in a way that doesn't affect adversely on their personal space."

Under the proposed ordinance, anyone other than law enforcement or media found to be violating the rule would face a fine up to $500. Burke, who was joined by Alderman Thomas Allen and Alderwoman Leslie A. Hairston in making the proposal, said the measure would be taken up by the City Council's Police and Fire Committee. It could be considered by the full council next month.

Given the large crowds of downtown Chicago and especially along the Michigan Avenue shopping district, where sidewalks are crammed daily with camera-toting tourists, it may seem an impossible law to enforce. But Burke said, "it wouldn't be applied in an average setting -- only in situations where someone is being harassed. Who else would complain?"

Still, the proposal raises serious legal concerns, according to Jeffrey Shaman, a constitutional law specialist at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago. "I think there is some valid concern for the people's privacy, given all of the various kinds of cameras and other types of electronic equipment that people can buy," he said. "But it still seems to me that this is not a strong enough reason to justify a law like this."

Obama has told reporters he is not sure such a law is necessary, and Mayor Richard M. Daley ridiculedthe proposal as a waste of aldermen's time. Warfel declined to comment, directing inquiries to Ryan's campaign. Officials there would not comment either.

Under a city ordinance passed earlier this year, it is already illegal to use a camera device -- including video, still and camera phones -- in areas where people can have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as restrooms, locker rooms, or lactation rooms.

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