The Rise of Amateurs Recording Events

Interesting article on a greatly increased aspect of surveillance: "the ordinary citizen who by chance finds himself in a position to record events of great public import, and to share the results with the rest of us."

Posted on May 31, 2013 at 6:07 AM • 14 Comments


GabeMay 31, 2013 8:08 AM

on a similar note, are you familiar with the great blog Photography Is Not A Crime? It covers things like what can go wrong when cops don't appreciate you recording them.

dkMay 31, 2013 8:35 AM

Jello Biafra used to call this "camcorder jihad" and to become the media instead of hating it. Now almost everybody has a mobile video production phone.

On the other hand is the bystander effect where horrible violence breaks out and everybody just stands there filming it and not intervening

Eric BlackMay 31, 2013 9:00 AM

A world full of Zapruders... imagine if the JFK assassination happened now, we would have multiple angles, as we did with the Oscar Grant shooting in 2009.

There was a science fiction story I read back in the 80s which predicted this. The other prediction it made was mulching as burial....

misuMay 31, 2013 9:34 AM

In the article, a speaker asked to be off-the-record so he could speak more openly, but was then recorded by a student. The student believes that people who are only willing to talk openly when they won't be recorded don't contribute to the public discussion - so even though he knows his actions will discourage others from speaking openly in similar forums he believes it was right to record the speaker.

On the one hand, this drives toward Assange's belief that if those with power are unable to communicate effectively without the risk of their communications being public, then they will be unable to sustain any large efforts against the public good.

On the other hand, the media is happy to take quotes out-of-context, which means that any significant figure is very limited in what they can say on a matter - each sentence must be able to be taken as a sound-bite without potential misinterpretation. This is a massive impediment to the necessary communication for complex decisions in a complex world. It all but forces simplistic thinking and simplistic politics.

A few days ago Bruce had a piece on the necessity of politicians to accept risks (reducing ineffective security services) and not be drawn by fear (the risk of a rare random event related to the security service). But how can politician effectively communicate the implementation of this course of action when every sentence must risk being taken out-of-context?

A young pornographerMay 31, 2013 9:44 AM

I totally agree with this article. My amateur videos have made hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Internet.

TheRatMay 31, 2013 9:53 AM

It's important, I think, to remember that we're all guilty of f*ckups. LEOs are not generally holding a PhD in Constitutional law - they will make mistakes. Sometimes, they may be pricks, but they have a reasonable concern in regard to not wanting their faces, names, etc thrown out all over YouTube.

In a different context, if someone came into a one of my conference rooms and started snapping pictures or video when I'm holding a sensitive meeting, rest assured that this would be frowned upon and treated accordingly.

tagsMay 31, 2013 10:00 AM

"You’re at risk of being recorded all the time, and at least for me, and I think for a lot of people who are more reasonable, that’s only motivation to be the best person you can be; to exhibit as good character as you can, because if all eyes are on you, you don’t really have the option to be publicly immoral, or to do wrong without being accountable."

This only incentivises people to act in accordance with their possible viewers' values of what a good character is. Too risky to have your own idea in case it is misinterpreted by the viewers who may or may not be there.
This way you can pretend that everyone has a good character. The threat of publication adds an extra layer that has to be seen through to get to the sincerity.

Street ShooterMay 31, 2013 10:05 AM

Chris Weeks's inimitable Street Photography – For the Purist


That’s another thing I hear. How the fuck do you take pictures without their consent? Well, first off, I’m not using the photos in the context of a commercial endorsement. I didn’t license the old guy in the street through a stock agent for use in a Herpes medication advert.

I don’t know every law about every country. I know that in the United States no one has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public area.

No one.

Why do you think the paparazzi really rule the streets of Los Angeles?

Why do you think it’s a multi-million dollar industry?

Why does every Tom, Jose or Francois think they can buy some heavy glass, move to Los Angeles and stalk to their heart’s delight?

Because they can.

It’s legal.

If there are signs posted that say, “No photography,” then don’t fucking photograph.

I wouldn’t. I mean I wouldn’t put my camera to my eye at least! ;)

If you’re obviously pissing someone off, stop, pretend to not speak their language, pretend to be deaf. Whatever works.

Your purpose is to be an unobserved observer.

You should hone your skills as such.
It’s not about beating someone about the face with your rangefinder – even though you probably could and still make photos. It’s about making photographs of the life that passes by ...

In all situations.

That said I am not above asking permission to making a photograph.

This Old ManMay 31, 2013 11:18 AM

I'm all for amateur recordings- they make our lives less ephemeral. I've had to hear my father's endless stories ("Building triangles! Drove from Halifax to Edmonton!"), but it was thanks to a city employee with a smartphone that I actually got to see my father move a baby moose off the highway- sending to to rejoin it's mother by a dugout.

The video in question.

B. JohnsonMay 31, 2013 11:44 AM

Eric Black: You may be thinking of "Flash Crowd." It wasn't about surveillance, it was about instant teleportation becoming widely available and, when something happens, mobs of people would show up to participate, witness, or exploit it.

And I'm glad it's happening, the only thing that concerns me with the average person recording everything, is that they have the common sense of the average person when deciding how/when they release it. I'm not saying it's a matter of privacy/rights, but more one of taste. Look at the bombing in Boston, hundreds (if not thousands) of photos were shared online within hours of people dead or dying. I can't imagine the impact of seeing a loved one's corpse in imgur before someone could tell you with some compassion.

Clive RobinsonMay 31, 2013 5:30 PM

Speaking of,

    "the ordinary citizen who by chance finds himself in a position to record events of great public import, and to share the results with the rest of us"

How many of you have heard about the British Airways aircraft that took off and the engine cowlings around both engines came of due to not being latched down?

Well there should have been three independent systems to stop this happening,

1, The maintanence engineer has a checklist they have to go through and sign off on.

2, A second engineer is then required to go around and double check and sign off on it.

3, The Pilot is responsable for the aircraft and signs for it, prior to which they are supposed to do pre-flight checks one part of which (used to be) to inspect any areas where work has been carried out along with checking the normal airworthy checks...

All three failed... BA have had to publicaly accept an iinterm report detailing these failings.

One reason the report was so quickly produced was all the photos and video footage taken by passengers on the aircraft and other people who were in and around the airport.

You can see some of it up on the BBC News website,

Over two hundred flights were cancled or diverted due to this incident and an estimated 20,000 passengers effected and "news talking heads" are saying British Airways should have to pay all of them compensation...

Dirk PraetJune 2, 2013 7:24 PM

Whether it be surveillance/Big Brother or sousveillance/Little Brother, it remains a double-edged sword for which I believe appropriate legislation is needed as to maintain the precarious balance between privacy and acceptable use.

Zuckerberg and company can declare privacy as dead as they want to, but they represent neither legislative, judicial or executive branch. Recording devices may have become cheap and ubiquitous, but that does not by definition render existing subject matter legislation redundant or obsolete. The same could be said for drugs, for that matter.

Where I live, we have very strong privacy laws, among which the so-called "right of portrait", which in its broadest sense requires anyone taking a picture of you having to ask for your permission, with an additional permission needed to actually use and publish the recording. In practice, implicit consent is assumed when a person is in a public space, but explicit permission is still required for publishing when the focus of the recording is on a particular person as opposed to him/her featuring in a mass recording. Exception to the rule are recordings of "public figures" as long as they are used for informational purposes only as opposed to commercial or defamatory purposes.

The implications hereof are very broad, even when it comes to law enforcement. Just a few examples
- Anyone posting or tagging pictures of you on social media can be asked to remove these (cease and desist) or be sued.
- A building owner or private person cannot just install CCTV cameras anywhere. Presence thereof needs to be explicitly indicated, and several other restrictive guidelines need to be followed.
- A shop owner or even private person who has footage of thieves/burglars in his place is not allowed to put this on the internet or publish it in any other way. Basically, he can only share it with LE.
- Depending on the case/crime, police may not even have the right to view/consult CCTV footage made by a private person or organisation.

I am not saying that this is always for the better - sometimes it's even absurd - , but the important thing to consider is that contrary to many other countries there is a very strict baseline imposed by the lawgiver who to date does not condone a full surveillance society. Refinements are needed and will be implemented as to reflect an evolving societal context.

@ TheRat

Sometimes, they may be pricks, but they have a reasonable concern in regard to not wanting their faces, names, etc thrown out all over YouTube.

As far as undercover operatives, spooks and the like go, you are certainly right. Uniformed LEO's with a sworn duty to serve and protect and operating in the open in my opinion have as little expectation of privacy as the average citizen does, especially when they abuse their power or authority. I refer to well-known cases such as the Rodney King incident in L.A. and more recently officers Anthony Bologna and John Pike pepper-spraying peaceful protesters in respectively NYC and at UC Davis.

Scrutiny by the general public becomes even more important when traditional media chose to look the other way, as is happening in Turkey for the moment, or when governments try to put a lid on embarassing or even criminal acts. I refer to the Collateral Murder video published by Wikileaks in 2010, showing footage of a helicopter raid killing Iraqi citizens, among which two folks from Reuters.

@ tags

This only incentivises people to act in accordance with their possible viewers' values of what a good character is

Are you familiar with Woody Allen's 1983 picture Zelig ?

Bill Higgins-- Beam JockeyJune 3, 2013 3:18 PM

In the linked New Yorker article "Little Brother Is Watching You," Maria Bustillos notes:

We might call it the emergence of Little Brother: the ordinary citizen who by chance finds himself in a position to record events of great public import, and to share the results with the rest of us.[...](As I learned after publishing this, the term had been coined earlier, and Cory Doctorow used it in 2007 for his book of the same name.)
As Bruce may recall, I helped organize the World Science Fiction Convention's program in 1991. I had a notion that computer networks might become important in the future, so I created a number of panels to discuss aspects of what we used to call the Information Age. Among the attendees were not only Bruce Schneier but also Mike Godwin, Steve Jackson, Eric Raymond, and Clifford Stoll. One may browse the conference's schedule here.

On Monday, 2 September 1991, at 1 PM, we held this panel:

Lots of Little Brothers Are Watching: Privacy in Computerland
Grand Ballroom B
Moderator: L.Z. Smith
A. Anda, D. Ihnat, C. Springs, C. Stoll
Our privacy may be at risk from monolithic government surveillance, but it's under far more frequent assault from a multitude of private and commercial snoopers-- credit bureaus, insurance companies, junkmailers, employers, and others. How has this come about? Does the Information Age provide us new weapons for fighting back?
This is using "Little Brothers" in a different sense than Bustillos does, but it's an early example of the term.

Given the long period between the publication of Orwell's 1984 in 1949 and our conference in 1991, I doubt I was the first guy to coin "Little Brother."

Clive RobinsonJune 4, 2013 6:25 AM

@ Bill Higgens,

    Given the long period between the publication of Orwell's 1984 in 1949 and our conference in 1991, I doubt I was the first guy to coin "Little Brother"

So 2013-1991=22years, you can definatly say the term "Has come of age".

However the term "little brother" predates Orwell himself by quite a while but in a different context. Monks are also known as Brothers, and because of their manner of dress and walking they look significantly different to the general populous. Several hundred years ago the wilds of Scotland especialy the Isles were places where monks set out their isolated existance and formed monastries, an important part of their diet would have been sea bird eggs harvested from cliff faces. Which might be why the puffin bird was several hundred years ago called "little brother".

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