Mobile apps for video surveillance applications (“Video Surveillance Management” software) exist for some time and are usually add-ons to video surveillance products. They basically allow viewing video streams on a mobile device. However, the next trend in video surveillance seems to be using smartphones as video surveillance cameras. Obvious applications are as spy-cams or as baby monitors. However, additionally, this further paves the way for broader use of sousveillance (“inverse surveillance”) technology, where everyone watches everyone, thus actually creating more privacy than less (as argued by David Brin). This is certainly an area of technology to watch.
Check our this really well-done app which can be used for many applications (such as letting your girlfriend choose which tea she would like while lying sick in bed): Airbeam.
In an interesting or crazy performance (depending on your point-of-view I guess), Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal implanted a camera in
the back of his head, which took a snapshot once every 60 seconds for a year (December 2010 – December 2011). This photo was automatically posted to the performance website 3rdi.me and to the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar to be viewed by anyone interested. Additionally, his current GPS coordinates were shown as well. He explained the reasoning behind the performance as “a comment on the inaccessibility of time, and the inability to capture memory and experience,” and further that he always wished to have a record of places left behind (he lived in several arab refugee camps after fleeing Iraq during the first Gulf war).
This performance triggered a privacy discussion on university campus, which forced him to cover the camera while being there. However, I’m surprised that this was not a bigger issue, outside the campus. What about people on the street? They just become part of the performance, without consent or even knowledge about it. However, this is a very good example of how a Transparent Society might look like in the future, where we achieve equality by complete and ultimate transparency. Recently, retinal implants successfully let patients see again in the UK. Wouldn’t cameras implanted into the eye be an interesting idea for the not-so-distant future?
Following my last post about complete transparency of information to increase privacy the idea to record everything in our lives is intriguing. Something like surveillance of our personal lives. In police work this seems to be the near future, similar to Charles Stross‘s description in his novel Halting State (which is set in 2018). There, everything a police officer sees is recorded, wirelessly uploaded and indexed for future reference and proof. Body worn cameras are already used by police in the US and UK and there is a number of producers of such devices (e.g. TASER recently introduced stylish new Oakley glasses with cameras). From a police point of view it makes sense to have proof of all events for later use. However, it surprised me to read that human right groups endorse such measures and even demand that police wear such cameras. The campaigning group whennooneswatching.org with their four fingers campaign demand that all police officers must have cameras attached, that these must be switched on when interacting with the public and that this data must be made available on request. The aim is to reduce police brutality and to have proof of brutal police officers. However, as IPVM points out(subscription-based access), opponents argue that body worn cameras might cause officer hesitation due to fear of scrutiny and thus risk his or her life. I think this argument is flawed. If certain actions are necessary in police work they should be regulated within reason and if not they should be forbidden. In any case, police officers have to act within the law and thus should not be afraid of scrutiny. But body worn systems still have some drawbacks that have to be solved before they can be used to protect victims as the four fingers campaign envisions it:
- They have to be “always on”: Due to low battery life these systems have to be switched on when the officer sees fit. This has two disadvantages: First, the officer cannot concentrate on his job and instead has to deal with the device. Second, it is very likely that an officer will turn off the device if he or she thinks the video might incriminate him.
- They have to be “live”: Today, the videos can only be used forensically and are not uploaded on the fly (LTE might change that). Thus, the material can easily be altered afterwards.
- Access to videos: Access to videos for persons involved in an incident has to be allowed and have to be easy to manage.
I believe body worn cameras for police are just the first step. It gets really exciting when everyone records every event in their lives (does anyone remember justin.tv? Yes, it still exists!). Thus, no one has an advantage or disadvantage of information. In fact, anyone can do that already today, lifeloggers even made somewhat of a sport out of it. This concept is generally referred to as sousveillance, i.e. the inverse of surveillance (which deserves a blog post by itself). So if you are motivated to start lifelogging now, there are a number of products available that offer functionality to record everything we see (check out these cool sunglasses or this not-so-cool device). However, I doubt that it is legally ok to film strangers without informing them.