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Every Move You Make

Every Move You Make

By Jesse C. Glickenhaus

February 7, 2013

Artist Pierre Derks’ installation in the Hague showing rotating live streaming images—a baby in a crib, a security feed from a laundromat, a woman eating breakfast on a couch in a bathrobe—from over 800 web cameras may feel uncomfortable to watch, but does it invade people’s privacy?[1] The images are both deeply intimate and largely anonymous. Derks did not hack any computers, but rather assembled collections of unsecured webcams that are connected to the Internet and filtered and streamed them into a gallery. If one defines privacy by the public/private physical space conception, then images of “public” places such as stores or public streets would not be an intrusion. There would be no reasonable expectation of privacy in these places, and few people would be surprised to know that stores and streets have security cameras that may be viewed by other people. Helen Nissenbaum would probably agree that the context of these environments—populated by with strangers, in public spaces—privacy is not expected, and therefore images of those places might not be a prima facie violation of privacy. However, the images from inside people’s “private” spaces might violate privacy. Warren and Brandeis would be horrified at the idea of “instantaneous photography” showing live video images from inside person’s home. Such streamed images seem to violate Processor’s “intrusion upon seclusion” tort. Diane Zimmerman might argue that the benefits of the disclosures, including increased public awareness of the issue of unsecured webcams, could outweigh any potential privacy concerns. Whether or not one views Derks’ project as an invasion of privacy depends on how one views connecting a webcam to the Internet. Is this an act of self-disclosure or assumption of the risk, analogous to leaving one’s digital window curtains open, or is it closer to writing in a journal or taking a private photograph at home? Will there be a point when no reasonable person could expect his or her unsecured webcam to remain private? Until then, secure your webcams, or know that someone might be watching you.

[1] Amar Toor, Privacy invasion or webcam art? ‘Screening Reality’ walks a fine line, The Verge (Feb. 6, 2013, 12:00 PM), http://www.theverge.com/2013/2/6/3949860/pierre-derks-screening-reality-amsterdam-exhibit-IP-cameras.


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