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The Coming War Against Personal Photography

By Laura Weinstein

Are you ready for the imagery war -- the war against personal photography and capturing of video? You'd better be.

The title of this piece actually isn't entirely accurate. In some ways, this war isn't just coming, it's already begun. Forces are lining up on both sides, under the radar for most of us so far, but preparing for action. And right now, if I had to place a bet (cash, not bitcoins, please), I'd reluctantly have to predict the anti-imagery folks have the better chance of winning.

There are many facets to this struggle, and they interact in complicated and sometimes even seemingly contradictory ways. It's largely a battle pitting technology against a range of personal sensibilities -- and politics will be playing an enormous role.

And please note the following well -- if we techies attempt to argue that no significant relevant issues actually exist, if we are perceived to be arrogant in our reactions to the various concerns being expressed, we are likely to be steamrolled by the opposition.

I said there were contradictory forces in play, and man, do I mean it.

In the aftermath of the Boston bombings -- cameras were everywhere there -- which while horrendous and tragic, killed and injured fewer people than just a few days of "routine" gun violence here in the USA, we're hearing the predictable calls for vastly expanded government-operated video surveillance networks, even though virtually every study shows that while these systems may be useful in solving crimes after the fact, they are of little to no use in preventing crime or terrorism in the first place. This has proven true even in cities like London, where there's a camera focused on pretty much every individual pimple on each Londoner's face.

In some cities, like New York, the surveillance-industrial complex has its fangs deeply into government for the big bucks. It's there we heard the Police Commissioner -- just hours ago, really -- claim that "privacy is off the table."

And of course, there's the rise of wearable cameras and microphones by law enforcement, generally bringing praise from people who assume they will reduce police misconduct, but also dangerously ignoring a host of critical questions.

Will officers be able to choose when the video is running? How will the video be protected from tampering? How long will it be archived? Can it be demanded by courts? Divorce lawyers? Insurance companies? Can it be enhanced and used to trigger prosecutions of new crimes, perhaps based on items in private homes captured on video when officers enter? What will be the penalties when clips of these videos, often involving people in personal situations of high drama and embarrassment, often through no fault of their own, leak onto video sharing sites?

All of this and more is the gung-ho, government surveillance side of the equation.

But what about the personal photography and video side? What of individual or corporate use of these technologies in public and private spaces?

Will the same politicians promoting government surveillance in all its glory take a similar stance toward nongovernmental applications?

Writing already on the wall suggests not.

Inklings of the battles to come are already visible, if you know where to look.

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This article was originally published on Lauren Weinstein's blog. @laurenweinstein

(AP Photo)

Laura Weinstein
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