Why Not A Wearable Camera?

Lifeloggers are everyday people who record their surroundings on a constant basis. These bloggers seamlessly blend both recordation and action by utilizing discreet, wearable tools to continually capture their life.

They wear some variety of a computer or camera on a daily basis to record the world around them at any moment. Most often, the intention is to build a database of memories through photographs and video.

One such camera, created by a Swedish company called Narrative, calls itself “The World’s Most Wearable Camera” due to its minute size and inconspicuous design. Yet, how many people will walk past the wearer, and how many of them would be able to actively consent to being photographed?

The wearer may not have set out to photograph unwary civilians, but nevertheless that is precisely what happens—so what does this mean for our privacy as everyday citizens when we can constantly be captured?

Everyone takes photos for memorial purposes, but the capture usually interrupts the experience: pause, take a picture, and then resume the activity.

Remarkably, Narrative’s Clip camera hooks onto the collar or pocket of a shirt and takes two photos for every minute of wear. This generates a massive amount of pictures—over 1,000 taken in a 12-hour period.

BTR sat down with two active and reputable filmmakers and journalists to hear their take on the legal and ethical implication of such a camera taken to the streets.

“It’s a major invasion of privacy,” says Zach Gorelick, a Washington, D.C., filmmaker and journalist who recently produced a documentary entitled, “The Footnote Film.”

“If you’re filming someone without their knowledge, you’d better have a damn good reason,” he advises.

But many states, including New York, allow street photography in non-commercial use, easing the concerns of lifeloggers, if not the unsuspecting bystanders. Essentially, if the photographer takes pictures in a public area, and does not intend on selling these photos, they do not technically break any laws.

However, street photographers, including those utilizing wearable cameras, can capture others in moments of great vulnerability.

An unwary person on the street doesn’t have time to primp or pose, or cover-up imperfections; they become unaware subjects to a photographer’s whims. And, essentially, anyone using the Clip or Clip 2 violates an unspoken agreement between pedestrians out on the streets. Lifeloggers are not harmlessly co-existing, but rather interrupting the mundane.

While people on the street interact almost constantly through commonplace verbal communication and movement, they don’t expect that these intimate, unobserved moments will end up on film.

Lifeloggers, in this way, aren’t tracking themselves at all. They record surroundings in order to infer and make observations about their own life, meanwhile compromising the respect they direct to the people around them.

As lifelogging grows ever more popular in the digital age, and more civilians turn to wearable cameras as a tool for both effective memory archival and amateur film exploration, the risk of residing in someone’s secret footage grows.

Even more imperative than the issue of an invasion of our social environment is the question of ethical professional or commercial use: how can subjects consent to appear in films, commercials, and online videos, if they aren’t aware that they’re being filmed?

While traditional news and film crews practically advertise their presence in a public setting, these cameras allow for more discreet filming by journalists and non-journalists alike.

Gorelick believes there is merit to Narrative’s ability to capture “crowd shots in tight spaces,” and “tense public demonstrations,” for journalistic purposes, but worries about the legal implications of using this footage in order to make a profit.

“Anyone planning to wear a body camera in order to surreptitiously record another individual or group,” Gorelick warns, “should check the legality of such an action.”

Like Gorelick, freelance filmmaker Dillon Puswald shows concern over the legality of this action, but ultimately believes this is not a pressing issue due to the camera’s technical faults.

“Narrative Clip 2 is not really a camera I think I’ll be seeing on a professional set any time soon,” Puswald explains, regarding the product’s substantially low quality in comparison to industry standard cameras.

Narrative Clip utilizes a five-megapixel camera, which means that these photos match the quality of those taken with an iPhone 4 camera. Meanwhile, the Clip 2 shoots pictures and video with an eight-megapixel camera (exactly the same as the camera on the iPhone 6).

Even in the case of a film that calls for footage taken on a body camera, Puswald argues, cinematographers will simply reach for their trusty, and less inconspicuous, GoPros.

Puswald explains that the GoPro cameras always win out over smaller tech such as the Clip 2 and its competitors, including the MeCam and Snapcam, due to the GoPro’s higher quality features that allow for easy and “rugged” use.

Cinematographers aim for quality footage; they don’t necessarily reach for smaller wearable tech if a better version exists at a larger size, according to Puswald.

If Puswald is correct, that the Clip and Clip 2 cameras are consumer cameras likely only meant “for fun,” civilians should not worry about their image appearing in professional photos and videos. He argues that the low quality of their cameras guarantees that this footage will most likely not make its way into a commercial product. The Clip is also fairly noticeable, he observes, and doesn’t work well for those looking to record secretly for personal reasons either.

“With the camera clipping on the front of the body, I can’t imagine that anyone wearing this would escape notice,” Puswald says, listing reasons which include its various color options (black, orange, white), and larger-than-expected size.

Concerned individuals, however, may still shy away from the idea that they could be the subjects of such pictures, even if those snapshots that may never see the light of day.

In order to combat this issue, Gorelick suggests that all camera wearers, even non-professionals, warn potential subjects of such an occurrence, assuring them of the harmless personal motivation behind their photography.

Wearers of body cameras, both filmmakers advise, should respectfully treat these gadgets as a privilege rather than a tool through which to violate previously unrecorded private moments in the lives of their unsuspecting fellow citizens.