Yesterday, I was caught naked on camera. There was nothing sexual or even exciting about it. I was in a public sauna with a girlfriend, naked as proper sauna culture dictates, and found myself looking into surveillance cameras in the sauna complex. The concept of privacy is certainly changing. But how?
There are no longer any areas where you can assume Big Brother isn’t watching. It used to be that you could assume governments weren’t looking at you naked in your home, but we know now that they are more than happy to do so, and even recording naked video conversations. There wasn’t even much of a public outrage at the fact that the government’s spy agencies had been recording you in naked chats.
It also used to be that you could at least have some bodily functions to yourself, like you would be free from prying eyes when you visited restrooms. Wrong again, totally wrong: there have been surveillance cameras in public restrooms for at least a decade. When a famous artist was caught snorting coke in a restroom in 2006, the Swedish Aftonbladet tabloid even published the surveillance images from the restroom.
At the time, most people were asking why this person was taking drugs, as evidenced by the camera footage. It seemed like I was the only person asking what the hell a recording surveillance camera was doing in a restroom.
There are a few things to take away from these developments.
First, cameras are not going away. We can regulate what the government may do with surveillance data (and we’re not being very successful at it at the moment, to be honest), but some gadgets are just here to stay. Small, ubiquitous cameras are one such item. We’ve already got cameras in glasses, and cameras in contact lenses or similarly hidden doesn’t seem more than a decade out. In short, we can expect to be recorded, always, though mostly by private individuals whose paths we’re just randomly crossing.
Second, the net generation has a whole different attitude to the human body and privacy. It used to be that images of naked people were something special. Yeah, not so much anymore. Privacy appears to be shifting from protecting what you are and own, to what you think and communicate. A recorded video of me working will show nothing subversive at all – it will merely show a guy sitting at a desk with a manyscreened computer. But if you were to get access to what I’m working on, the image of me changes dramatically.
Third, the government still needs to be restrained. The laws surrounding cameras were developed in a time when it was assumed that nobody could get a continuous power advantage by taking any photo at any time. But when actors in society suddenly are getting the capability to take photos everywhere, all the time, it changes the power dynamics dramatically. The laws, as written, do not take such a capability into account. At present, governments are experimenting with surveillance drones that can literally watch over a whole city, tracking every individual on the move. We can’t realistically prevent ordinary people wearing cameras – if the technology is there, that cat is out of the bag – but we can and need to restrain the government use of surveillance.
After all, ordinary people don’t really judge you for doing something as mundane as, say, smoking weed. The government, however, may put you in jail for years and years for that (and has done so on many occasions for the past decades). In addition, it records and stores everything, to possibly be used against you at a later date.
I think that’s one of the scariest things about the current surveillance trends: not that somebody is seen naked, but that anything everybody says and thinks is recorded – and that it can and will be used against them, decades from now, when laws and values have changed.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.