[extropy-chat] Wearable Camera Etiquette

Hal Finney hal at finney.org
Mon Apr 12 17:19:43 UTC 2004

As technology makes it easier and more common for people to carry
recording devices, society will need to adapt.  We need to decide whether
it is more convenient to limit the use of the devices, or to alter our
handling of secret and private information to be less sensitive.

On one hand we can try to limit the capture of data to mimic the
way things have worked in the past.  Basically, people can remember
everything they see, but only to a limited degree.  We could attempt
to place limitations on assisted recording in situations where privacy
is expected.  To enforce this we would require that there be some way of
knowing when someone is using a recording device.  Maybe the operator
would have to display a flashing red light whenever it was in use.
And any such device would have to be designed to support this requirement.

The problem is that cheating will be hard to detect, if someone has
disabled his light, for example.  If he's just recording the data for
his own personal benefit then no one may ever know.  I think this general
approach is going to be problematic for this reason.

Another approach is to allow capture of data but to try to crack down on
sharing it.  You can take pictures for your own personal use, but you
can't give copies of sensitive data to other people.  This has some of
the same problems but it is perhaps a little easier to enforce, since
the data sharing is by its nature somewhat public.  OTOH with cypherpunk
technologies people will be able to share data anonymously.  So this idea
has problems as well.

A third idea is to try to adapt society to accept that people can record
and share what they see.  This takes us into the grounds of David Brin's
"transparent society".  He sees this as somewhat inevitable and tries
to present it as a positive change.  In fact, much of what is done in
secrecy is harmful and would be better if exposed to the light of public
observation.  But at the same time, society does rely on privacy for
good purposes as well, and it will be expensive and probably socially
unacceptable to change over to systems that can survive omnipresent
public recording.

I don't think that simplistic analogies can guide us here.  Omnipresent
recording devices are not just like having a good memory, and they are
not just like a tourist with a camera.  They are something new, and
they will require new responses.  I think we will need a combination
of ideas from all the categories above: some restrictions on recording
(progressively more difficult to enforce as the cameras become smaller
and more integrated); some restrictions on sharing (depending on what
direction society goes for allowing anonymous data exchange); and some
adaptation to the presence of cameras (where it is not too expensive
and inconvenient).

Over time we will probably have to adapt more and more, because of the
difficulties of enforcing restrictions, but this can be done gradually
as the cameras slowly proliferate and people get accustomed to their


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