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California Gov. Pete Wilson

California passes law to rein in paparazzi

Opponents call law unconstitutionally broad

Web posted on: Thursday, October 01, 1998 3:59:29 PM

SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- With Gov. Pete Wilson's signature, California on Thursday became the first state to pass a law bolstering privacy rights against aggressive reporters.

"Under this bill, the so-called 'stalkerazzi' will be deterred from driving their human prey to distraction, or even death," Wilson said.

The law, which goes into effect January 1, defines invasion of privacy as trespassing with the intent to capture audio or video images of a celebrity or crime victim "engaging in a personal or family activity in circumstances where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy."

In addition, it authorizes punitive damages against media outlets which violate the law.

The bill was introduced by state Sen. John Burton of San Francisco after Princess Diana was killed in a Paris car crash last year. She was being trailed by celebrity photographers at the time.

Actors praise Wilson's move

Among cases cited in support of the bill was a California rape victim taped by a tabloid television show "as she prepared her family's dinner in her own kitchen," according to a press release from Gov. Wilson's office.

The bill was backed by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Directors Guild of America and celebrities including Sharon Stone, Alec Baldwin and George Clooney.

SAG President Richard Masur said in a statement that "We thank Governor Wilson for understanding the need for this legislation to deter those who would intrude upon Californians' most private moments."

"We further salute his courage in signing this legislation in the face of concerted opposition of the newspaper, broadcast and motion picture lobbies," Masur added.

Opponents: Law could impede legitimate newsgatherers

Meanwhile, opponents of the bill, including ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and the American Civil Liberties Union, said it would infringe on freedom of the press, and could be used to muzzle legitimate newsgathering.

"I don't know of any law where you could have more sledgehammer approach than this bill," said Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

Lawyers for major media groups also pointed out that the law exempts police, insurance investigators, and other law enforcement agencies if they have reason to believe crime is involved.

"They can still use the same 'intrusive techniques,' but they do it for apparently state-sanctioned purposes," Gene Erbin, a lawyer representing a number of major television networks, told Reuters news agency.

California's new law came as efforts continued in Washington to pass a federal version of similar legislation. The "Personal Privacy Protection Act," backed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), among others, would make it a federal crime to pursue people "in a manner that causes them to have a reasonable fear of bodily injury" for the purpose of photographing, filming or otherwise recording their activities for commercial purposes.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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