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Cell phone cameras getting day in court--or not

The federal judiciary is deciding whether cell phone cameras should be allowed in courtrooms, raising the possibility that the popular devices will be banned from yet another place.

The administrative office for the federal judiciary is now deciding whether cell phone cameras should be allowed in courtrooms, a source said Friday, raising the possibility that the popular devices will be banned from yet another place.

Recording devices of any kind are usually banned from inside courtrooms. One of the myriad reasons involves protecting the identity of confidential witnesses or of minors accused of crimes. Courtroom personnel fear that cell phones with embedded cameras, not to mention those with both cameras and video recording capabilities, could be put to use without detection.

The policy to come from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts would be voluntary, the source said, with the final decision left to individual courts. A representative for the office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Some U.S. District Courts and U.S. Courts of Appeal already ban cell phones outright, collecting them at the door for return later. Some courtrooms allow cell phones only if they are turned off, but confiscate camera phones, according to the United States Marshals Service, which protects the nation's federal courthouses.

"We are, generally, keeping an eye out for them," said a representative for the marshals service.

Cell phone cameras have also created privacy concerns. A growing number of athletic clubs are making locker rooms off-limits to all cell phones, and the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act was approved by the Senate last September. It generates fines and up to a year in prison for anyone caught taking covert pictures in locker rooms, bedrooms and other places where people expect privacy.