My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, BBC version, homepage version) focuses on how Internet video, in combination with ubiquitous video cameras embedded in millions of cell phones, has dramatically increased the likelihood that someone, somewhere will capture video evidence of once-hidden events that can be made instantly available to the world. Pointing to recent incidents involving the U.S. Army, UCLA, and Michael Richards, I argue that these high profile incidents are just the tip of the video iceberg as the cameras are now always rolling. Internet video sites receive thousands of new videos every hour, with sites such as YouTube hosting unedited footage of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, clips that appear to show police brutality, and videos from universities and academic conferences featuring violent confrontations between students and teachers.
While there are some obvious benefits that arise from the transparency and potential accountability that can come from video evidence of controversial events, the emergence of an always-on video society raises some difficult questions about the appropriate privacy-transparency balance, the ethics of posting private moments to a global audience, and the responsibility of websites that facilitate Internet video distribution.
I wish you would clarify the dilemma for the rest of us. What expectation of privacy should one have in a public place? I am more concerned that we are extending privacy—a suspicious, selfish, individualistic, and materialistic human value—to public spaces, and to the detriment of our right to interact, observe, engage, and criticize others in common areas. Yes, at some point enagement and interaction becomes criminal harassment—but we already have laws to deal with that.