We Are All Paparazzi Now
Publicly accessible webcams are proliferating throughout the world more than 10,000 webcams according to a Carnegie Mellon University survey this past September.
Paul Lancaster, an Arizona businessman who operates a publicly accessible webcam focused on Heritage Square in Flagstaff, Ariz., says webcams attract huge audiences because of people’s innate interest in watching others.
The number of publicly available webcams is dwarfed, however, by the number of surveillance cameras deployed by private and government entities nationwide–over 3 million cameras, according to the Security Industry Association.
Existing wiretap laws make secretly recording public conversation illegal, but no laws protect people’s images recorded in public places.
But recently, a county sheriff in Phoenix, Ariz., was ordered to stop webcasting images of female inmates for commercial use via “jailcams.” And well-publicized facial recognition systems used by the Tampa Police Department for the 2001 Super Bowl and in Boston’s Logan Airport have failed because of immature technology.
However, “The Transparent Society” author David Brin warns that webcam technology will continue to improve at the pace of Moore’s Law, which states that computer processing power doubles every 18 months.
Although webcams inspire “Big Brother” fears, some observers say a public, distributed network of webcams could actually prevent government civil liberty abuses.
Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg says the real danger of webcam networks, especially in the government sphere, is the physical infrastructure, which cannot be removed as easily as privacy-infringing legislation.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from the Salon.com (09/25/03); Mieszkowski, Katherine.