Private Cameras vs State Cameras

By on August 29th, 2014 in Privacy & Security

A recent opinion piece in Technology and Society by Jay Stanley (ACLU) questions the impact of Omnipresent Cameras — every cell phone is a video device, potentially streaming to the net live. Drones, private and government have their eyes open. Streets are monitored at traffic lights (and elsewhere) by government cameras as are many buildings via private cameras. The next article by Steve Mann talks about the “black bubbles” that are used to obscure cameras — and includes delightful images of Steve and friends with similar bubbles on their heads.  Steve points to lighting devices that incorporate cameras that can recognize faces and read license plates Jay points out that today we expect significant events in the public space to be recorded. The aftermath of the Ferguson shooting was captured by a cell phone camera, but the police car recordings (if any) have not been released.

Cameras and culture

All of this leads to  cultural questions  on the appropriate expectations of privacy, possible restrictions on public recording of government activities (such as police at a traffic stop, or the evolution of a demonstration in the streets of (pick your favorite city). It does not take much to demonstrate that eye witnesses are poor recorders of events (see Dan Simmons research on selective attention) — this makes the availability of “recorded” evidence quite useful. With more cameras on cars (backup cameras), on person (Glass), on buildings, on planes/drones, light-bulbs, and yes-the increasing image quality of the cameras that turn on/off devices in the bathroom (Steve points out these are up to  1024 pixels) the expectations of privacy “in public” are diminishing, and the potential for photographic evidence are increasing. Jay suggests that both police and the folks they interact with act differently when officers are equipped with body cameras.

So is this good?  What ethical issues, or even rules of evidence apply? How does it vary from culture to culture?

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash