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Sousveillance in Seattle - Watching the Watchers 489

Posted by timothy
from the steve-mann-my-hero dept.
Eh-Wire writes "At the recent ACM Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy, Steve Mann - cyborg numero uno - led a troop of conference attendees on a surveillance camera hunt and digital capture. Their antics confounded rent-a-cops in a downtown Seattle shopping mall who had difficulty with the concept of having their surveillance cameras surveilled."
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Sousveillance in Seattle - Watching the Watchers

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  • Nice... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DarkHelmet (120004) * <mark AT seventhcycle DOT net> on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:28PM (#12236501) Homepage
    He has designed a wallet that requires someone to show ID in order to see his ID. The device consists of a wallet with a card reader on it. His driver's license can be seen only partially through a display. And in order for someone to see the rest of his ID, they have to swipe their own ID through the card reader to open the wallet.

    Oh, if only world politics worked this way.

    U.S: We wish to disarm Iraq.
    Iraq: Bzzt. We're sorry, but in order to disarm our weapons, you must disarm your weapons too.

    Mann quoted Simon Davies of Privacy International, a London-based nonprofit that monitors civil liberties issues: "The totalitarian regime is the regime that would like to know everything about everyone but reveal nothing about itself," Mann said.

    Good luck getting inspectors into places in the US.
    If only there were someone with a camera with enough balls/stupidity/both to try that out? Michael Moore anyone?

  • by symbolic (11752) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:32PM (#12236559)
    At the Gap, photographers were told they couldn't take pictures because the Gap didn't want competitors to study and copy its clothing displays.

    Good laugh. All they need to do it walk in and LOOK at it. Duh.

    in any event, I don't think malls are the best place to start - I think public cameras, being monitored by government agencies, or cameras placed in locations where we live would be a more justified target. Malls have a right to protect their assets from shoplifters. On the other hand, I'd argue that a property manager or government agency doesn't necessarily have the right to watch me as I come and go, who I'm with, or anything else of that nature.
  • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by moorley (69393) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:40PM (#12236676)
    You know I hate the sentiment of this post because I want to disagree with it. But I can't.

    In part I feel for what Mann is doing but I have to agree his attempt to throw light on the issue is infantile and silly.

    Is there a better way to make the point? Or does the point need more sharpening/definition?

    I'm at a loss...
  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DaLukester (687299) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:41PM (#12236705)
    This is one of those situations where the CEO of Equifax would have been right. I dont remember the exact quote but in effect he said "It isn't your information, it's other people's information about you".
  • by SharpFang (651121) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:44PM (#12236756) Homepage Journal
    Actually, there is a pretty strong reason to prevent taking photos of security devices. That is, preventing intrusion. The first thing a thief does when entering a monitored area is to somehow fool the security - and it's much harder if the security devices are unknown. Yes, security through obscurity - the obscurity being just one of elements of the system, not the only one - is more efficient. A well planned robbery would require detailed plans of the building, with focus on the security devices. Obviously the management wants to prevent that. ...although, in the era of miniature cameras that can be easily hidden in a handbag etc, taking photos in a way not visible to the shop security is quite easy...
  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DaveK08054 (801355) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:50PM (#12236849) Journal
    I think you will find that malls are not so much "private property" as they are "places of public accommodation", which dramatically affects the rights of the public. However I don't think "discrimination" against geeks with cameras is part of any legislation, so it probably won't change anything in this case.
  • by Zeebs (577100) <rsdrew@NOSpaM.gmail.com> on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:53PM (#12236893)
    getting paid to be a nutbag off tax payers' and students' dime.

    Thats the best kind of professor, or would you rather he brought a bible(or accepted textbook) to class and read directly from that. So what hes doing right now is 'worthless' other then perhaps he actually did he job as a professor and caused people to think, in this case about their privacy.

    This has to be proof of a low UID getting a free ride from the mods, I don't mean to attack personally. Just because you can't see the value in something doesn't mean its devoid of value.

    Also the professor was a Canadian so leave your tax payers arugment out of, we canucks are used to paying the government for useless shit doesn't seem to bother us as much.
  • by lost in place (248578) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:57PM (#12236945)
    Gee... you mean The Gap doesn't publish catalogs???

    What do catalogs have to do with store display layouts?

    Government agencies may not have a right to watch you, but owners of private property have the right to do anything they want... including monitor you in the restroom.

    Actually, they don't. The mall may be privately owned but it is a public place (eg, you can't expose yourself in a mall just because it's private property). In a restroom you have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" and the owners can't violate that without consequences.
  • by dink353 (747249) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @02:09PM (#12237083) Homepage
    Much like the example, I walked around a store, and looked up at random video cameras throughout the store. This so freaked out the store manager on duty that she called the police, and not one, not two, but THREE cops showed up to deal with me.

    Now, I could be wrong, but I think that it is a little extream to have the cops come out after you just for looking at the camera's in a store. I am also in charge of the security cameras at my college, and if someone started looking up at them, I would think "They must be interested in security cameras" and if they photographed them, I would wonder why, but for goodness sake...

    I may get flaimed for this, but I think that America is turning more and more into a police state. The more we want protection, the happier we are to give up our rights and thank the person we are giving them to.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 14, 2005 @02:10PM (#12237090)
    The relationship then of authority to civilian is one of dominance and subordination. The ideas presented at the conference are attempting to redefine that relationship.

    Hmm, little thought experiment here...

    authority: I am a cop, walking my beat. La la la. Oh, hello citizen.
    civilian: Hello cop. You hold no dominance over me!
    authority: Yes, it is true.
    civilian: I'm off to rob and steal!
    authority: Please don't. Instead, why don't you come with me to jail?
    civilian: Piss off.

    Um. Authorities have authority. They need it in order to be The Authorities. If The Authorities can't show up and be like "You can't do that here" then what good are they?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 14, 2005 @02:16PM (#12237172)
    civilian: Tum de deee. I'mjust out walking
    authority: Show me your ID.
    civilian: Why?
    authority: Because I have a suspicion you are a criminal
    civilian: Why?
    authority: Because you're resisting arrest?
    civilian: How?
    authority: See? You're doing it again!
  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by digitalchinky (650880) <dtchky@gmail.com> on Thursday April 14, 2005 @02:23PM (#12237256)
    Way back working with the tactical EW Navy hat on, we took thousands of photographs of 'them' taking pictures of us. (As too did they) 'Them' being any military or government entity that was not allied to our own. None of us were trained in photographics, thus the multitude of 'my shit was bigger than yours - and here's some colour, infra-red, and funky spectral proof' shots for you chief.

    RANTEWSS, it's no longer what it used to be.

    I'm a little suprised that so many find this 'odd' - the more perspective, generally speaking, the better the vision.
  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by josecanuc (91) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @02:23PM (#12237257) Homepage Journal
    But the more I thought about it, the more clever it becomes. It forces people to think about...

    Which brings up a point which is both off-topic and unrelated to this story, you, or your post (so please don't take this as a personal attack):

    Consider the set of people who think it is clever or just "not wrong" to, as stated, force someone to think about something. Now consider the set of people who get upset and/or offended when someone "forces" them to think about a religious faith. (The reason I use the word "force" is because the commonly heard complaint in this area is that one's beliefs are being "crammed down the throat" of the offended.)

    For example, one argument about prayer in school or the phrase, "under God," in the U.S. pledge of allegiance is that the mere hearing of religious words has somehow tainted one's freedom to practice or not practice any kind of ritual or belief.

    Consider the intersection of those two sets of people. I wonder how large/small it is.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 14, 2005 @02:28PM (#12237322)
    But I've seen interviews with this guy, he goes everywhere with his funky head gear and attitude. He has been having that same exact conversation with every security guard he can get to look at him -- it's always "if you can record me why can't I record you -- and BTW, you're on the web". It always ends up with the security guard sending him on his way.

    Sure. He's labouring under the misapprehension that all people will treat each other as equals, simply because they "should". The security guards don't want to grant him the same powers to record their actions that they want to claim over his. He repeatedly points out this contradiction, in the hopes that it will sink in. By your own account, it rarely seems to.

    Whether that's because the guards are too stuborn to accept that they're being unfair, or because he's too thick to see that the guards will never change is a matter open to debate.

    --
    AC
  • Not again ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 14, 2005 @02:37PM (#12237436)
    As an engineering student at the University of Toronto ("Toike Oike! Toike Oike! Ollum te chollum te chay!" etc.) I shudder everytime I read anything along the lines of "Mann, a University of Toronto professor...". To my knowledge he hasn't taught a class in two years, and hasn't taught anything besides a postgrad seminar [wearcam.org] based on his own book - moreover his published work [wearcam.org] is repetitive and focused on his personal goal of becoming a cyborg. His lab [eyetap.org] is very small in proportion to his media profile and commercially (rather than research) -oriented.

    In general this makes me feel badly for some of the truly excellent professors UofT has doing pioneering research in a wide range of fields. They tend to labour in anonymity because their work (in many cases with wider implications than Mann's) is less understandable to the general public and keeps them sufficiently busy to preclude field trips to Seattle malls. I sincerely hope this stunt wasn't in any way funded by his UofT salary.
  • Light of other Days (Score:2, Interesting)

    by number6 (38954) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @02:48PM (#12237559) Homepage Journal
    There's a book by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C Clarke about a new (cheap) technology which allows everyone to monitor everyone else. How it does it is relatively unimportant (wormholes), but sitting in your home in London you could watch a couple in their bedroom in Tokyo, and the latter have no way of knowing, and no way of stopping it (other than making sure it is totally dark).

    Great power to the government... but also power to everyone else since people can watch the goverment as well as the government watching them.

    Then they figure out how to send the holes back in time, so not only can you watch anyone anywhere, but also anyone at any point in the past. Government and business coverups become almost impossible (as does cheating on your partner or taking a private shower).

    Is a 'fair' situation where nobody has any privacy at all better or worse than an imbalanced one where big organisations have privacy and private citizens have only some?

  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Artifakt (700173) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @02:59PM (#12237701)
    I have to agree that pointing your cameras at their cameras isn't symetric, ethically, but I'd dispute one of your other points:

    Why should a random private mall employee have a philosophical privacy and surveillance discussion with some self-righteous, cynical privacy advocate.

    Leaving aside the prejudicial language that makes your remark beg the question -

    1. Because that private employee is specially recognized by the state in his job, and his testimony in court is considered expert testimony? Shouldn't an 'expert' on matters of law enforcement be able to engage in a 'philosophical' discussion of an area at least closely related to that which he is supposedly expert in (i.e. the legal limits of obtaining evidence)?

    2. Because most of these private employees have officially received training in legal rights isssues and signed legal doccuments attesting to that fact in an effort to keep their employer from facing various lawsuits?

    3. Because about 50% of the time, the private employee is an off duty policeman or deputy working a second job, about whom the first point applies in spades, redoubled with an ace kicker?

    If you ever try something like these protests, you will find you can't talk to mall management about the issues. You can't attend a board of directors meeting and bring this sort of thing up, even if you are a small stockholder. Try either, and you will find yourself talking to PR flack lawyers who will swear they don't have the authority to commit to giving you their own name, let alone changing policy, if you aren't on the reciving end of an injunction. So, you can't resolve any problem through the owners, or through management, and by your arguement, you can't do anything, even peripherally, to help resolve it where the rubber meets the road either.
    By your own arguement, including that bold face reference to private property, we have two entities, an individual, and a corporation, both allegedly equal in the eyes of the law, and any individual's complaint what-so-ever can NEVER be resolved to the satisfaction of the individual except if a good portion of individuals stop trying to resolve complaints on a volutary basis and switch to immediately and agressively taking them to court. I can see the point you make in the quoted section, especially in the abstract. It would be so much better for everyone in the long run if management wasn't used to hiding behind cheap employees instead of dealing with things that are really their job. Unfortunately, given decades of systemic abuse, it leads inexorably to a law-suit happy society.
  • by alienmole (15522) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @03:01PM (#12237725)
    Your first point, about "forcing" people to think, has some validity -- there can be times when it's appropriate to force people to think, perhaps because some injustice is taking place which needs to be called to people's attention, but there may be other times when such forcing may be less justifiable.

    However, that has little to do with the pledge of allegiance issue which you raise. The issue there is that the pledge is something that is supposed to be shared by all US citizens, and even more pertinently, said by children under the direction of teachers in public schools. In that situation, significant coercion is being applied, on multiple levels, to children to have them say "under god", no matter what their beliefs on the matter, or, for that matter, the beliefs of their parents. Their only alternative, to refuse to say it, is likely to be a socially costly exercise -- the sort of thing that is going to raise people to have strong, even radical feelings on the matter.

    This is precisely one of the reasons behind the principle of separation of church and state. You don't want to apply coercion to your own citizens on matters of deep personal belief -- it's only going to get you in trouble.

    For 62 years from the time it was written, the pledge was something which could be shared by all citizens, until Congress stepped in and hijacked it in the name of religion. In so doing, they expressly violated the Constitutional clause which reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". Congress could get away with that because it happened during the McCarthy era, when religion was seen as a bastion against communism, which was associated with atheism.

    Today, there's no excuse for it, and even those of religious faith should recognize that it's not in their own interests to impose such a thing on their fellow citizens. If they refuse to acknowledge that, they are merely setting up an "us against them" situation, and relying on their majority status to be able to have their way. Such people should be ashamed of themselves, especially considering that most of them are Christians, since they are certainly not following the spirit of Jesus Christ on this matter.
  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jason Ford (635431) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @03:22PM (#12237981)
    When someone says the word God, you know what they are talking about.

    I'd argue the opposite. When someone says the word 'God', I'm never quite sure what they mean. This is true even if the person qualifies it by saying 'the Christian God.' I say this coming from a largely self-taught background in comparative religion.

    I find that most people have only the most vague notions concerning this 'God.'

    In all seriousness, would you care to say what you mean by the word 'God?'
  • by damsa (840364) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @08:33PM (#12240500)
    From what he told me, being an MP in the Airforce is really boring. I guess Kazakstan is not really that fun. He left as soon as his enlistment was up. I was sharing an anecdote. That yes people who work at mall security do have military experience. Just because they do doesn't mean they are some badass. It was just another job to him until he got another one that paid better.

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