Lawmakers propose to shield privacy of celebrities
HONOLULU – More than two-thirds of Hawaii’s state senators have signed onto a bill to protect celebrities from paparazzi, giving them power to sue over unwanted beach photos and other snapshots on the islands.
The bill’s author says he’s pushing the law at the request of Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, the former “American Idol” judge who recently bought a new home on Maui.
A representative for Aerosmith declined comment late Thursday, saying Tyler was not immediately available.
Sen. J. Kalani English, a Democrat from East Maui, told The Associated Press that the so-called “Steven Tyler Act” will help Hawaii’s tourism and film industries, encouraging famous people to come here without fear of being stalked by paparazzi.
“These are my constituents as well,” English said. “Public figures have a right to reasonable privacy. There’s a balance that we need to create.”
The bill would open people up to civil lawsuits if they invade the privacy of public figures by taking or selling photos or videos. It defines invasion of privacy as capturing or trying to capture images or sound of people “in a manner that is offensive to a reasonable person” during personal or family moments. It does not specify places where pictures would be OK or whether public places would be exempt. The bill says it would apply to people who take photos from boats or anywhere else within ocean waters.
“Although their celebrity status may justify a lower expectation of privacy, the Legislature finds that sometimes the paparazzi go too far to disturb the peace and tranquility afforded celebrities who escape to Hawaii for a quiet life,” English wrote in the bill.
Longtime Hawaii media lawyer Jeff Portnoy said the legislation is vague and panders to celebrities.
“It’s unnecessary, it’s potentially unconstitutional and it flies in the face of decades of privacy law,” he said.
He said that it’s hard to know how the court would interpret the state constitutional provision for the right to privacy in terms of this bill but that based upon privacy-related court precedents, the law would be unnecessary.
The bill has been introduced and referred to committee; lawmakers haven’t set a date to discuss it. While 18 of 25 of the state’s senators have signed on, including the Senate majority leader, it’s unclear whether the bill would stand a chance in the House.
Hawaii House Majority Leader Scott Saiki said he supports the idea of protecting celebrities’ privacy but thinks the bill should be more specific.
” ‘In a manner that is offensive to a reasonable person’ – what does that mean?” Saiki said.
He said he thinks the bill needs substantial amendments to make sure it’s enforceable.
English said he believes the bill is constitutional. He said the state has a provision in its constitution to protect the right to privacy.
“Generally, we’ve respected people’s privacy, but we have a different time now,” English said.
Like other destinations, Hawaii has a steady stream of high-profile visitors. President Barack Obama vacations on Oahu once a year with his family, while Lance Armstrong escaped to the Big Island last month after a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey in his home state of Texas.