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Anywhere you go, there is a chance you will be photographed or filmed, with the results posted online. Time to adopt a Voluntary Code of Video Conduct, on both sides of the camera.
Crosscut archive image.

A few faces in the crowds at Seattle's Fremont Fair in June. With the growth of digital photography comes the loss of privacy.

Anywhere you go, there is a chance you will be photographed or filmed, with the results posted online. Time to adopt a Voluntary Code of Video Conduct, on both sides of the camera.

Technology forces new behavior, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the increasingly ubiquitous digital photography trend has eroded privacy. You walk into any room and six out of 10 people might be carrying a camera. Anything you do in public can be filmed, edited, and posted online without your knowledge or permission. Once this occurs there is nothing you can do to pull it back.

We should be accustomed to how every time there is a cool new thing we need to learn new habits to keep us from appearing uncool. The classic example was the natural tendency of new email users to use all caps to emphasize a point. By now, everyone knows this is akin to shouting. These adjustments continue, but a good rule is to act the same way in the virtual world as you would face-to-face.

So until the rules are clear, we need to follow the advice of a great philosopher from the pre-digital age, the one known as Mom: All your actions have consequences, and what you do today can come back to bite you tomorrow.

Today, no one needs permission to film you on the street, in a government building or in a public park. Property owners control the rights for their store, office building, shopping mall, or transportation system. The supposed distinction between public space and public property is pretty worthless here, because you can end up on someone's camera every time you go outside the house. Photographers who don't know how to publish the material online can ask their kids.

This leads some of us to the quaint fear that a singular entity will somehow watch us throughout, and our actions will be flagged if we misbehave — as suggested in George Orwell's 1984. People who grew up with digital technology don't have this fear, as it seems clear to them that these devices were created benevolently. But some of the elders, like self-described "digital privacy guru" David Holtzman, think we should keep track of who controls the technology. The good news is we can watch them back, since we will always have that ability with our own vigilante video postings. Digital cameras are just too cheap and too easy to integrate into other devices like phones to ever be effectively regulated.

'ꀜThe real crime in 1984 was not the technology, but the use to which it was put," Holtzman said in an email. "I don't think that we have any assurances that we aren't moving into a 1984 situation from the perspective of universal observation. We have to zealously protect what can be done with surreptitiously collected information if we want to prevent the advent of a fascist society fueled by technology."

In other words, cameras don't violate your privacy. People violate your privacy.

The government is not likely to enact more privacy laws, especially at the expense of press freedom. "If you are filming someone in a public place it never hurts to ask permission," said Assistant Attorney General Tim Ford. "Most people won't take a video image surreptitiously, but it's legal to shoot video of anyone who is in a public place. We will not pass any laws that will change this."

More laws, in this case, would not be a good thing. Instead, the best strategy is to seek your own level and act appropriately. Similarly, someone who dislikes the idea of anonymous commenting can correct the situation by signing all of their own posts. You can't change the world, but you can keep your little corner of the world clean. The only difference is that you can control your own posts, but not your image.

Perhaps we should all follow a Voluntary Code of VIdeo Conduct: When you go out in public you need to be aware there is a camera following you, and you should act civilized. Those with cameras should know who is in the frame and whether they need to be there. And those watching an online video need to apply a certain amount of context, keeping in mind that video can be edited and that there may be more — or less — going on than the camera suggests.


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