Are you being watched? Or just being paranoid?

Traffic CamerasIf I were paranoid I would think I was being watched… Oh, wait, I probably am being watched. The number of surveillance cameras around seem to multiply faster than weeds. Today I was driving down the freeway and every few kilometers a traffic camera would appear. Sometimes the camera covered all lanes, other times just the fast lane, sometimes easy to spot, other times hard to see. Some are fixed in place, others are remote controlled. These cameras are not just hanging around the roads; they are at the banks, public buildings, stores, and just about everywhere we go. They are a bit more subtle than the paparazzi, but watching none the less.

If a camera captures someone wearing a copyright T-shirt, does that make taking the picture a copyright violation? Or would it also need a shrink wrapped license agreement similar to software to be protected? What if I’m having a bad hair day and don’t want this stored for posterity? Since the camera is likely taking pictures of public property, or property owned by the camera owner, preventing being photographed is unlikely. But, as more and more people start wandering around with video cameras in addition to fixed cameras, should there be an expectation of moments of privacy?

Surveillance CameraSurveillance serves as a means of providing security, deterring theft, and aiding law enforcement officials. But there are darker uses such as spying on others. With cameras becoming so common, means of detecting, blinding, or disabling are likely to become more common as well. Museums can forbid visitors taking pictures, while at the same time taking pictures and videos of those same visitors. The movie industry desires to prevent film pirating, as well as detecting those doing the pirating. Should we have the right to decide whether or not we want to be recorded? This decision could impact both legitimate camera uses as well as shady usages.

While touring the country how would you feel if parts of the scenery were blurred because random strangers objected to being photographed? Criminals and terrorists would surely like to avoid surveillance, but does this mean we need to give up privacy for protection? Instead of blocking my own image, should I be allowed to replace it with an identifiable avatar’s image instead? The avatar’s image would surely not suffer from bad hair day syndrome. But once again, those taking the picture would likely object to avatars as much as blurring, and this system could be abused as well.

Over time more and more of our travels will be captured by various forms of digital imaging. Should we have an expectation of privacy, and choice over being photographed? Or are we all just in the public domain? What trade-offs do you see in the technologies to capture our images, versus the technologies to stop the recording?

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