Thursday, May 02, 2013

Hidden cameras & private footage: 4 important cases to watch

If you think the crowdsourced identification of the Boston Marathon bombers was an exceptional use of hidden cameras, think again. We watch more online video than any other kind of social media, and it's easier than ever to shoot and share professional-quality HD video with decent sound on smaller and smaller cameras. Companies, governments, organizations and individuals are putting these recording techniques to use--in some cases, with hidden cameras, in others with behind-the-scenes footage not intended for the public eye. And that's where things get tricky. Here are four cases in which either hidden cameras or not-ready-for-prime-time footage are causing PR headaches, all cases you should keep you eye on:
  1. I spy with my Googly eye: The problem with Google Glass: People wearing them can record you without you knowing talks about an as-yet largely unavailable product, Google's eyepiece that records, takes pictures, shares, searches and more. Right now, some observers are calling for "Glass etiquette" to guide would-be surreptitious recorders. Good luck with that idea. So far, one bar in Seattle is banning Google Glass outright. Before you panic, find out how Google Glass really works,  and read about the newly released specs for Google Glass.
  2. Using video to blow the whistle on whistle-blowers: The New York Times article Taping of farm cruelty is becoming the crime is a good primer on the so-called "Ag-Gag" laws, designed to make criminal the undercover video recording of animal cruelty and unsafe practices in agricultural facilities and farms. Activists have succeeded in shutting down or getting prosecutions of violations of agricultural and animal protection laws using videos as proof, and the new spate of laws aims to reverse that trend by making the video recording the crime. This activist--who's done some undercover recordings himself--suggests a different use for webcams so that they open up the slaughterhouses to public viewing, in the name of transparency: "There would be no need for human intrusion into dangerous sites. No tricky angles or scary edits by activists. Just the visual facts. If the operators felt their work misrepresented, they could add cameras to give an even fuller picture." (Memo to the New York Times: The article does a nice job referring to the visual product as video, since it concerns images captured digitally, and not on old-school videotape. So how 'bout not using the word "taping" in the headline? You know, to update your look.)
  3. You don't need Google Glass to record using your sunglasses, as you'll see in this look at wearable video cameras for police officers. Here's how the cameras work: "The cameras are so small that they can be attached to a collar, a cap or even to the side of an officer’s sunglasses. High-capacity battery packs can last for an extended shift. And all of the videos are uploaded automatically to a central server that serves as a kind of digital evidence locker." Intended to improve community relations by providing an impartial view of what happens in police interactions, the practice is viewed askance by many of the cops themselves. A study currently underway is already demonstrating major reductions in citizen complaints and in use of force by the police when the cameras are worn and used.
  4. Hiding in plain sight: Rutgers officials long knew of coach's actions shares the tick-tock on a highly visible case involving video shot from the stands, showing a university coach striking, shoving, and swearing at players in ways that eventually led to his firing...but not fast enough. It was an official but not publicly available video, which gave it nearly the same impact as a surreptitious recording. We know we weren't meant to see this. In this case, a former assistant had long complained of the coach's abusive ways. "The video, parts of which were made public last week, was 30 minutes long. It had been professionally edited from a collection of 219 DVDs covering hundreds of hours of practices, material that Rutgers had voluntarily provided to Eric Murdock, the former assistant, after his departure." So if the video exists, remember that a personnel or legal action can make it more widely available than you might imagine at first. Also notable in this coverage: The coalescing of public opinion based on who saw the video and when. When the public considers a video compelling, the idea that your executive saw it months ago and did nothing official means you've got more explaining to do.
I'm voting with the animal rights activist and the police departments who advocate using cameras for transparency, in part because pursuing terrorist designations and jail time is such a lousy PR tactic for combating coverage you don't like. And as my earlier post Arresting photographers: What should your security team do in an age of cellphone cameras? noted, you can come up with less strenuous workarounds instead of arrests and confiscating equipment. How are you handling hidden video?

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