Privacy Expectations

Video cameras are prolific. Over 5 million camcorders were sold in the US in 2005–however, the statistics for video camera use are not readily available. Most major retail stores use video security cameras. You'll also find them attached to many traffic lights. Private detectives are purchasing tens of thousands of tiny video cameras, the smallest of which is no bigger than a thumbtack. Many mobile phones now include a built-in video camera. Twenty years ago, you probably couldn't find a video camera within a few miles of the typical house–today, you might find several within the average home. What are all of these video cameras looking at? What are the implications of a society with tens of millions of video cameras?

Have you seen Scare Tactics on the Sci-Fi Channel? Billed as the "scariest hidden-camera show," this show features several hidden video cameras recording people tricked into thinking that they are in danger. It is noteworthy that they qualify their hidden camera show as the scariest, since apparently there are now enough shows in this genre to require clarification as to what makes this show unique.

Technologically, we could have been watching this TV many years ago. It does not require the newest, smallest video cameras, however it does require a tolerant society. Just a few years ago, the majority of people would have found this idea extremely distasteful, cruel or unethical. However, as producers expose our society to more of these hidden camera shows, we become more tolerant of this technology and its use. There is something odd about finding joy in the suffering of other people, but perhaps this is not the place to elaborate upon why this is the case.

The Fourth Amendment protects American citizens against "unreasonable searches and seizures." Unless there's a "reasonable" expectation of privacy (for instance, what one does or says will not be seen or heard by someone else,) law enforcement authorities are not required to get a warrant or other court order to record video images of our lives. Of course, video cameras weren't around when the Founding Fathers wrote the Fourth Amendment, and technological developments require our lawmakers to constantly revisit it. Over the years, the courts have found that "Judicial implementations of the Fourth Amendment need constant accommodation to the ever-intensifying technology of surveillance" and "the Fourth Amendment must likewise grow in response." While very few of you work in law enforcement or private investigation, I am sure that some of you find hidden cameras intriguing and may find a secret temptation to use them.

Consider embracing a personal ethic on this topic. If you wouldn't want to be secretly videotaped in a certain situation, then you should not secretly videotape others in similar situations.

Matthew York is Videomaker’s Publisher/Editor

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