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Camera phone clampdown demanded

There is growing pressure on manufacturers to introduce safeguards to stop camera phones being used to take intrusive snaps

Industry bodies and activists are calling for tighter curbs on camera phones, claiming that the devices pose a serious threat to civil liberties.

Privacy International (PI) warned on Tuesday that it has seen a steep rise in the number of complaints from members of the public who say that camera phones have been used to take private and intrusive images without consent.

PI is calling on manufacturers to change the design of future camera phones so that they flash every time a picture is taken.

"The ability to covertly capture images and then instantly transmit those images removes any safeguard for the victim," warned Simon Davies, PI director.

"Phone companies have a legal and a moral responsibility to fix these problems. This is not an attack on the technology. It is a call to make the technology safe," Davies added.

Phones with built-in cameras have been selling very well over the last few years, and today it is quite common for a mid-range phone to include a one-megapixel or better camera.

But this boom has led to concern that the technology could be abused. Some gyms and swimming pools have already banned camera phones, amid fears that covert snaps could be taken.

Last year the South Korean government ruled that all camera phones sold in the region must make a noise of at least 65dBs when a picture is taken. PI, though, believes that an audible warning is little use in a noisy environment, which is why it favours a visual sign that an image that a picture has been taken. The devices have also been banned in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, according to reports.

In America the Consumer Electronics Association, the main trade group for gadget makers of all types, published a set of guidelines on Monday for the use of camera phones.

The group's "Camera Phone Code of Conduct" consists of seven rules meant to balance digital imaging ubiquity with privacy and other concerns. "We hope that consumers will keep in mind the public responsibility that comes with owning this type of product, and [we] encourage retailers to actively educate their customers about appropriate use of these devices," Gary Shapiro, CEA president, said in a statement.

The code says camera-equipped phones shouldn't be used in venues in which photography is normally forbidden, such as museums and movie theatres, or in places such as locker rooms, in which people expect a degree of privacy.

Some analysts have also warned companies that they should forbid employees from bringing camera phones into the office, as they could be used to steal corporate secrets.

CNET News.com's David Becker contributed to this report