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Seattle's Creepy Cameraman Pushes Public Surveillance Buttons 387

Posted by timothy
from the high-performance-art dept.
theodp writes "People seem to be okay with constant corporate or government video surveillance in public. Let a lone individual point a video camera their way, however, and tempers flare. GeekWire takes a look at the antics and videos of Seattle's mysterious Surveillance Camera Man, who walks up to people and records them for no apparent reason other than to make a point: How is what he's doing different than those stationary surveillance cameras tucked away in buildings and public places?" At least with Surveillance Camera Man, you specifically know that he's watching you — not always the case. (Not even when there's no warrant, on private property in the U.S.)
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Seattle's Creepy Cameraman Pushes Public Surveillance Buttons

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  • by Revotron (1115029) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:34PM (#41847019)
    One wrong move and this creepy cameraman may end up with harassment charges.

    A prosecutor and possibly a judge may argue that his actions differ from security cameras in the sense that a security camera is fixed in place and watches a predefined area to spot crimes and identify perpetrators. In this case, he is very mobile and instead of filming a predefined area, he films individual people. He walks up to a single person and videotapes them with the intent of aggravating them about being videotaped. That could easily be spun as harassment if he ticks off the wrong person.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:34PM (#41847023)

    Stationary surveillance is not obtrusive. This guy is obstructing the persons' line of sight and getting in their way. He's also recording the audio of what people are saying. This is more like harassment to prove a point. If he was across the street recording then I doubt anyone would even care.

  • Public vs private (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harvey the nerd (582806) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:35PM (#41847031)
    Of course many would like to think that "public" surveillence camera are safer with pre-screened employees. Given the abuse, injure, rob, thieve record of TSA, the kill-sorry-wrong-house adventures of various city and federal agencies, and various asset forfeiture abuses these past 25 years, is no strong reason to believe this more than the tooth fairy.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:39PM (#41847061)
    Person with no concept of personal space gets in someone's personal space to make a point about a topic completely unrelated to personal space.
  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:40PM (#41847071) Homepage Journal
    Why isn't he following politicians and LEO's?

    Seriously, man, I hate ubiquitous surveillance as-much-if-not-more than the next guy - following me around doesn't prove anything, except that you're an asshole with entirely too much free time.
  • The difference... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by skelly33 (891182) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:43PM (#41847105)
    the difference is that you never know what some a-hole private individual is going to do with video footage of you including, but not limited to:

    * Adding it to his private collection of masturbation material
    * Posting it on YouTube for everyone to enjoy a good laugh at your expense
    * Modify the material and use it for blackmail/extortion/public humiliation
    * Worse?

    With corporate cameras, odds are much higher that the footage is going onto a temporary buffer which will eventually (usually 1 week to 1 month kind of time frame) be wiped out and replaced by the next day's worth of footage. With corporate cameras, the fixed field of view, the image is general. With an asshat like this guy, you are specifically targeted (reference list above as to why that is a problem). Occasionally we see these situations in the news such as TSA staff intercepting and/or duplicating video/images of passengers moving through the line. That is not acceptable behavior. When they are caught, they should be terminated as their actions are inappropriate.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:47PM (#41847135)

    Stationary surveillance is not obtrusive. This guy is obstructing the persons' line of sight and getting in their way. He's also recording the audio of what people are saying. This is more like harassment to prove a point. If he was across the street recording then I doubt anyone would even care.

    So tell me where is this codified? I've not read anything that says "thou shalt use stationary only and not robotically controlled tracking cameras and this shall be okay" and the audio part, I'm very curious where you found that it was not okay to get audio with your video? Also, he clearly doesn't get any audio from the security guard until the security guard comes out and tells him to get lost. So I'm confused about how you're justifying some incidences over others.

  • by garcia (6573) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:47PM (#41847147)

    A prosecutor and possibly a judge may argue that his actions differ from security cameras in the sense that a security camera is fixed in place and watches a predefined area to spot crimes and identify perpetrators.

    I wasn't aware there were regulations limiting the adding of security cameras to places that record what's in the public's view. This is no different than a business putting up a camera on one corner of the building and deciding to move it to another.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harassment [merriam-webster.com]

    The key here seems to be repeated attempts of what he is doing. I'm guessing as long as he doesn't do it after being told to stop he's not harassing anyone.

    Annoying, perhaps but being annoying isn't illegal.

  • by justsomecomputerguy (545196) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:49PM (#41847163) Homepage
    His antics are DIFFERENT because he is a PERSON, and he keeps getting right up in other peoples face (within distance to physically touch or be touched) A much better test that would eliminate the CREEPY GUY factor, would be to just mount a camera on a tripod and place it by the doorway of a building or even in the middle of a crowd or public square and then walk away from it. Maybe have it mounted on a stand that can turn and focus... I could should that people were "afraid of balloons" if I stepped right up in there faces and stared at them while holding balloons. Possibly interesting idea executed very lamely. Next.
  • by Zak3056 (69287) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:50PM (#41847169) Journal

    A prosecutor and possibly a judge may argue that his actions differ from security cameras in the sense that a security camera is fixed in place and watches a predefined area to spot crimes and identify perpetrators.

    "Fixed in place" is (mostly) true, but "predefined area" does not have to be. PTZ cameras abound, also high megapixel cameras offer digital PTZ, so just because it's pointed at a fixed area doesn't mean that it's somehow limited. One extreme example is Avigilon, which offers a 29MP digital camera. Believe me when I say that the level of detail offered here, and what you can look at is fairly impressive (I've seen a nice demo setup where a single camera with a fairly wide lens is set up on a video wall offering a couple of dozen discrete views).

    Also, I would argue with the logic that "to spot crimes and identify perpetrators" holds any real water. I can cover my neighborhood with cameras just to be a nosy ass, without any real contribution to security.

    While I think this guy's actions are assholish at best, he does raise an excellent point.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:54PM (#41847207) Homepage Journal

    He's not trying to make a right. He's trying to call attention to a wrong.

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:58PM (#41847261)

    "You even look like a dumb fuck."

    Funniest part of the video and sums up my feelings on the whole project. This has nothing to do with surveillance and everything to do with a sociopath making people uncomfortable.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:59PM (#41847271)

    I fail to see the difference if it's some a-hole with his own camera or an a-hole in a room in a building working for someone. Sure, they might be afraid of losing their job if they do the wrong thing, but at the end of the day it's still some creep looking at pictures of you.

    Besides, the real problem here is that we DON'T know what anyone's doing with surveillance photos - doesn't matter who the individual is. I know it's easier to get upset at one person, because he has a face and he gets up in yours. But that doesn't change the reality of the surveillance situation.

    At least he's calling attention to the issue, even if it pisses people off. Not in a classy way, not in a particular intelligent or friendly way, but he's doing it.

  • by Ichijo (607641) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:09PM (#41847371) Homepage Journal

    Yes, it can be uncomfortable to have your beliefs or your security measures challenged, but sometimes they need to be.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:22PM (#41847537) Journal

    While I think this guy's actions are assholish at best, he does raise an excellent point.

    That his actions are assholish at best IS the entire point. Surveillance cameras are no less assholish. So if you're opposed to this guy, you must also oppose surveillance cameras.

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:30PM (#41847631)

    If the dude had no camera, it would be almost the same thing. Walk up to a guy sitting in a car and just stare in the window. Sit down at a table with someone talking on the phone. Stare in through a plate-glass window at someone eating, then when they move, follow them inside. No camera, the reaction would have been the same.

    I get the point he was trying to make. I may even agree a bit. He just did a horrendous job of making that point and instead behaved like a sociopath, and because he had a camera rolling we get to see what people do when sociopaths interact with normal (or even abnormal) people.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:39PM (#41847699)

    So if you're opposed to this guy, you must also oppose surveillance cameras.

    Surveillance cameras don't walk up to you and film you right in your face, nor do they sit down next to you while you're on the phone and record your conversation. These are two completely different scenarios where the only common factor is a video camera.

    I'm opposed to speeding on public roadways, but you don't see me picketing a NASCAR race.

  • by Sibko (1036168) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:44PM (#41847763)
    There's a sandbox game I play from time to time called Space Station 13, usually as the AI. It's a 2D multiplayer RPG/roguelike of sorts, and much like Dwarf Fortress or MUD's, not the easiest thing to get into.

    I mostly play on /tg/ server 2 as Wintermote, an AI that enjoys monitoring all communications and drama going on around the space station. The AI has a lot of tools at its disposal for doing this - you can change frequencies on a room's intercom; using its microphone to transmit and eavesdrop on nearby conversations over a private channel, you can hack into the PDA messaging system and read every single private message sent between players on their PDA's (think, tablets/phones), and you have cameras covering nearly the entire station so that you can see almost everything that is happening.

    The curious thing I've noticed is that nobody ever cares about the spying /until/ it both involves them and is specifically brought to their attention. The Head of Security doesn't care that I'm spying on two scientists in the bomb testing lab, but if she finds out I'm spying on her in the interrogation room where she's beating a prisoner to death, wellll suddenly it's creepy and weird.

    What is more interesting is that when a player dies, they become an observer in the round and can hear and see /everything/; moreso even than an AI, because the AI is limited by game considerations - intercoms, power, working computer systems, etc. Every player knows that anything they say can and probably /is/ being seen by another player who is currently dead in the round.

    So an interesting story relating to this: I see the librarian and a medical doctor in the library having a rather private conversation - I turn on the intercom and eavesdrop, and then comment on something one of them said, I was immediately told to stop listening, and the two then turned off their intercom. An admin shortly thereafter made all dead players visible. The librarian and doctor were surrounded by a swarm of ghosts, all listening to their conversation. Once it was done, they immediately stopped their conversation and departed the library, but the dead players had always been there, listening. Both the Librarian and Doctor knew that dead players or the AI could hear anything they said, but they continued their conversation until it was made directly apparent (By an admin making dead players visible, or by me speaking to them) that someone was dropping eaves. It was only at /that/ point that it became an issue and they decided to stop and continue some other time.

    I've asked players if they mind if I spy on them, and the response is almost always "I don't mind, so long as you don't interject or comment about things, or tell other people".

    Basically, out of sight, out of mind. People generally don't care that I see/hear what they're doing, so long as I don't bring it up or mention it. And that, I think, relates to this article - the government CCTV cameras and ubiquitous surveillance isn't really made apparent to people. You don't have a government agent calling you up and saying that he listened to that conversation you just had on the phone, and that he found that one joke really hilarious.

    In the back of your mind, you know or think you know the government is spying on you like that, but it isn't really shoved in your face and it doesn't really impact you, and so people ignore it. It's only when it's brought to a person's attention that they ever give a shit.

    And that is exactly what this man is doing. He's shoving the surveillance into people's faces, to try and get them to give a shit. I fear, however, that instead of fighting against the government surveillance - which he is trying to bring to their attention - people are just going to fight against /him/.
  • by staticdragon (95211) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:47PM (#41847791) Homepage

    I've seen plenty of security camera footage on youtube. All it takes is a desire on the part of those with the footage.

  • by Cryacin (657549) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:50PM (#41847821)
    So are you voting Pepsi or Coke for this election?
  • by Kurrel (1213064) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:52PM (#41847847)
    What's the difference? Cameras can have extremely high resolutions, digital zoom levels, and parabolic microphones. So they can indeed film you right in your face, and record a quiet conversation, remotely. Would you rather see the cameraman walk up to you, or never know he's there?
  • by Comrade Ogilvy (1719488) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:54PM (#41847881)

    No, you are confusing yourself because you have an ideological axe to grind.

    AC and MightyYar brought up the topic of "personal space". Privacy and personal space are not necessarily related at all. My privacy may be approximately nil in a crowd, while the crowd could still be very respectful of my personal space. Likewise, a full body cavity search may not violate my privacy in any important way (depending on my personal attitude about my details of biology), while it has everything to do with personal space.

    He is violating social taboos very dear to most people, and violence is a likelihood. Juries are not going to sympathize with this fellow any more than they would sympathize with a naked man caught masturbating in front of a grade school.

    Furthermore actions very close to another's personal space that a reasonable person might construe as purposefully menacing can be grounds for assault. "Assault", unlike "battery" does not require any actual physical contact. All it takes is a jury to believe "he scared me" from one victim and this guy could be in the hospital as warm up for his time in jail.

  • by Cajun Hell (725246) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:57PM (#41847917) Homepage Journal

    Surveillance cameras don't walk up to you and film you right in your face, nor do they sit down next to you while you're on the phone and record your conversation.

    Like he said, that's the point. Surveillance cameras don't do those things, which is what makes them worse, since they violate privacy to the same degree, but more discreetly.

    You're acting like it's ok that your snail mail censors reseal the envelops after they read all your mail, but there will be hell to pay if they leave the envelopes open, reminding you that your love letters have already been read by some stranger.

    I'm not saying you shouldn't be pissed at this jerk. I'm saying you should be even more pissed at someone else, who maybe you had forgotten to be pissed at.

  • by Comrade Ogilvy (1719488) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @06:41PM (#41848365)

    While I think this guy's actions are assholish at best, he does raise an excellent point.

    That his actions are assholish at best IS the entire point. Surveillance cameras are no less assholish. So if you're opposed to this guy, you must also oppose surveillance cameras.

    A person physically located a few feet away, staring intently, and not observing the social norms of personal space can be perceived as a menace by reasonable people -- that can generate a number of negative reactions, including FEAR. Adding a camera does not magically make this an innocent exercise. Nor does bringing along an ideological axe to grind.

  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @06:43PM (#41848373) Journal

    Funny you should mention FUD... Want an example of that? Okay, here you go [photoattorney.com] (and mind that it's PDF). That was the the result of 5 seconds poking around on Google. Analyze it to your heart's content, but know that you're missing the point of the exercise - read on and you'll see why...

    Like I said in the previous post:
    "Even if he were perfectly non-liable in civil court and perfectly innocent of any criminal charges, the time, effort, money, and potential loss of freedom (e.g. while awaiting trial) would be more than enough to make his life a living hell."

    Seriously - in your rush to 'win' a 'debate', you missed the point entirely: It doesn't matter if it applies to him or not. Doesn't matter one whit if he's perfectly legit or if he's flirting with a long stint in PMITA prison. Let me repeat that: It. Does. Not. Matter. Fact is, he's still flirting with a long expensive legal process that, even if innocent/non-liable, will cost him a shitload of money, time, and possibly freedom.

    All it takes is someone with an axe to grind with the guy, and who can find a lawyer dumb enough to do it on contingency. The rest equals upwards of a year+ of one very expensive living hell for the gent in TFA.

    Do you understand what I was getting at now?

  • by Golddess (1361003) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @06:52PM (#41848457)

    Cameras can have extremely high resolutions, digital zoom levels, and parabolic microphones. So they can indeed film you right in your face, and record a quiet conversation, remotely.

    1) It's not about the resulting image, it's about the physical device invading ones personal space. You might not think the distinction matters, but I'm sure for most people, it matters greatly.
    2) With the right camera, you can also see heat patterns through walls. But just because someone is ok with one type of recording done at a distance (recording images in the visible spectrum), doesn't mean they are ok with all types of recording done as a distance.

  • by poity (465672) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @06:59PM (#41848535)

    I think there could be other factors at play here besides our initial theory that this is all about expectation of privacy, for example an expectation of not being singled out or not being made a public spectacle.

    I wonder how people would react if someone carried around a camera on a tall pole with a conspicuous sign saying "This camera is recording you" WITHOUT singling out anyone or following anyone. If there is no difference in reaction, then it's evidence that privacy is indeed the primary concern, but if there is a difference in reaction then perhaps considerations other than privacy is the primary concern.

    Something to think about before jumping to conclusions.

  • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @09:07PM (#41849445) Journal

    It's not about the resulting image, it's about the physical device invading ones personal space.

    Ignorance is bliss.

    If the camera is across the street and recording my conversation or the camera is in my face recording the conversation, the only difference is that I'm aware of the camera in my face.

  • by Ksevio (865461) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @10:08PM (#41849785) Homepage
    Or more likely, the people that handled the issue gracefully were too boring to upload, so he moved on.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2012 @10:57PM (#41850057)

    Let me get this straight. He's doing something non-violent and *LEGAL*, but you hope that someone "kicks the shit out of him".

    You think the proper response for *not* committing an illegal act is to commit assault and battery?

    Tool.

  • by cyn1c77 (928549) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @11:09PM (#41850105)

    Also, surveillance cameras in public places are installed there under the authorization of people who have been democratically elected by society to preserve the best interests of that society.

    What about the video cameras in privately owned "public" spaces, like the mall or Starbucks. Or the changing room at your favorite clothing store?

  • by foofish (10132) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @11:54PM (#41850281)

    There is an extra annoyance factor of having something (or this guy) IN YOUR FACE though. Would you say that a fly buzzing around across the street is just as annoying as a fly buzzing around your face?

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @11:56PM (#41850287)

    if you're opposed to this guy, you must also oppose surveillance cameras.

    That doesn't follow. I'm opposed to random strangers pulling me over while I'm driving, but I recognize that cops sometimes need to. I'm opposed to random strangers going through my bags, but it's okay if the TSA scans them for bombs. I'm opposed to creepy fuckers* filming me on the streets, but I have no problem with ATM's having built-in cameras.

    *(though not this particular one, since he's just making a political statement)

    Intent matters. If you're doing something for the public good, and you show restraint, then that's very different from someone with unknown or unseemly motives. The restraint is important. Going back to my earlier examples, cops pulling people over on fishing expeditions is bad. So is the TSA groping people for ... I don't even know what their reasoning is. So is mounting cameras at every street corner.

    Things aren't as black and white as you'd like them to be.

  • by SomePgmr (2021234) on Friday November 02, 2012 @12:00AM (#41850317) Homepage

    What's illegal and what deserves an ass kicking have two very different criteria.

    But there are a number of places I can think of where I would like to see that guy try this stunt. None of them are at a Starbucks in a nice neighborhood.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 02, 2012 @12:53AM (#41850485)

    There's no part of your statement where the legality is questionable. The "Creepy Cameraman"'s actions are legal, because recording/photography *in a public space* is legal. Your hoped-for response is illegal, be cause it's assault and battery.

  • by jalopezp (2622345) on Friday November 02, 2012 @10:25AM (#41853453)
    If freedom of speech is not respected for fascists, then it may not be respected for anyone. Hate speech is always ambiguously defined, and where the line is today, it may not be tomorrow. I'd have thought that with your sig you'd be more inclined to shame and pity racism than to ban it. Finally, if nazi marches were outlawed, no one would have proved their worth in Cable Street.

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