Privacy endangered notion

"If it can be proved they had knowledge that the person was sensitive and showing his activities to others could lead to extreme behaviour, like suicide, it would be possible to run a charge of manslaughter," she said.

University of Florida professor of law Jon Mills said it was easy to intrude and those intrusions were going to occur.

"We have to both realise that and we have to learn to punish, too."

In Florida, someone who used a camera to violate a person's privacy can be charged with video voyeurism, a misdemeanour that carries a sentence of up to a year in jail.

If convicted of the crime more than once, the penalty jumps to third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

In the Rutgers case, the students have been charged with violation of privacy, which carries up to a five-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors are reviewing what other laws, including hate crime, might apply to the case.

Victims in the US can opt to sue in a civil court to impose financial punishment on those involved, winning damages because of an invasion of privacy, public disclosure of private facts or causing distress.

But a civil suit cannot stop images from being shared over and over again online.

Prof Mills told the Orlando Sentinel that once those images were posted online, they got copied so many times.

"It's virtually impossible to get them all."

Ms Peart said technology made distribution easy and people needed to protect themselves by always being mindful that web cameras, cell phones and other handheld devices could record you anywhere or any time.

 Tips to avoid being a recorded target

Cyber-safety experts say there are steps you can take to protect yourself, including:

• Treat your cellphone and laptop like your cash card - keep them on you and in your sights at all times.

• Assume anyone holding a cellphone or other hand-held devices with photo capabilities may be taking your picture.

• Don't do anything in range of that camera that you don't want the world to see.

• Point web cameras up toward ceiling when not in use or close laptops with cameras.

• A camera on a laptop can be in use even if screen appears blank.

• Periodically use Google to search your name, your screen name or any other identifying information to ensure your image or information isn't being shared.

• The quicker you respond, the better chances you have that the images have not been copied.

- Source: Phil Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software; Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org