IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - Summer 2014 - 13

OPINION

Personal Rights in the Age
of Omnipresent Cameras

JAY STANLEY

G

eorge Orwell once observed that "the ages
And there are the cameras that may soon be flying over
in which the dominant weapon is expenour heads mounted on drones.
sive or difficult to make will tend to be
Of course, the effects of particular tools and techages of despotism, whereas when the
nologies on freedom are not always predetermined-
dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common
often they are contested. Police departments around the
people have a chance." Tanks and battleships, he sugnation are increasingly installing their own cameras,
gested, are "inherently tyrannical weapons," while
often networked together in ways that allow people to
weapons like rifles, muskets, and long-bows "are
be tracked and recorded across wide areas. This coninherently democratic."
veys significant power-not only to
Orwell, writing in 1945 in the wake
crack down on violations both seriWill new
of the Spanish Civil War and World
ous and petty, but also to abuse surtechnological
War II, was understandably focused on
veillance for political or personal
weapons, but his point may apply to all
purposes. Perhaps most significantly,
devices shift power
kinds of technologies. The photocopy
it casts a chilling shadow of police
towards large
machine, for example, was a tool for
power over all activities that take
institutions such
freedom in the old u.S.S.r., where it
place under the cameras' gaze. Then
as government
was used to produce underground disthere are the more specialized uses of
sident literature, or Samizdat.
cameras, such as license plate recogagencies and big
As we watch the explosion of technition and tracking systems, and even
corporations, or
nology around us, it is worth asking
such things as cameras on trash trucks
will they empower
whether our new devices will be more
to record what people throw away in
individuals?
like tanks, or long-bows-whether
their garbage and recycling bins.
they will shift power towards large
But cameras are also being used
institutions such as government agencies and big corby individuals in ways that empower them. People are
porations, or whether they will empower individuals.
using their own cameras to record the police in order
The record so far is mixed.
to protect against abuse, or at least seek justice when
One of the most striking changes we are living through
it takes place. Some police officers have been fighting
is the permeation of our lives with cameras, which month
back by trying to stop such recording-ordering cesby month are becoming cheaper, more powerful, and
sations of recording, intimidating, harassing, or even
more omnipresent in our lives. For the first time in hisarresting people for taking photos, or seizing memory
tory, nearly everyone carries a video camera with them
chips or cameras. The ACLu has successfully fought
in their pocket nearly everywhere they go. People are
back against such behavior through numerous lawmounting cameras on their bicycle helmets, on their car
suits around the country.
dashboards, and on the outside of their property. Google
Another technology is police body-worn video
is marketing Glass to wear on one's face, and the police
cameras, which are far more ambiguous in their
are increasingly adopting body-worn video cameras.
effects. Depending on the precise rules governing
their deployment, they have the potential to serve as

Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MTS.2014.2319915
Date of publication: 4 June 2014

IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

(continued on page 18)
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SuMMEr 2014

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