Counting Down to Pen & Pixel 2013
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Those Bloody Backpacks

Boston Bombing Suspect from CCTV
CCTV image released by FBI on April 18, 2013 of man carrying bulky backpack.

I HAVE RUN in several marathons and then collected my changing gear from backpacks I placed near the finish line but now I realise that's going to be more difficult in the years ahead.

Boston Scanner

Initial investigation by the FBI after a tragic ending to the Boston Marathon reveals two home-made bombs were carried to the finish line by men with backpacks. One cursory look at the profile of the backpacks reveals the contents aren't changing gear. The rectangular profile of the two backpacks have resulted in faster electronic combing of CCTV footage and should provide a few positive matches from Facebook photos as authorities gain access to the images of a three day period on the world's largest trove of sousveillance.

Members of the public have offered photos and videos from the grisly finishing area, proving the crowd itself is a living surveillance organism.

We have become Homo documentis, says James Poniewozik. [1] And key points of interest like the finishing line of a race automatically become key frames in thousands of videos. So if you plan to blow up a key point of interest while surrounded by thousands of people, you're going to be captured.

In Ireland, the first images I saw from the 2013 Boston Marathon came from amateur cameras. Those amateur photojournalists go everywhere now. And they don't confine their skills to major outdoor events. As creative multimedia students, they snap whiteboards in my classrooms, they record audio during my lectures, and they use their phones as mass storage devices connected to laptops. 

I think if you work behind a closed door, you invoke an expectation of privacy so I don't turn on the three different recording devices that I carry while I'm standing over my laptop. However, I've noticed that on several occasions either one of my cameraphones or my Sony Digital Dictaphone has turned on by pressure and recorded half hour segments of my mundane work life. This can be unnerving to colleagues.

I mention these anecdotes because Google Glass appeared on the heads of several hundred people today. All sorts of privacy alarms have been raised, with Glass  banned in advance  from casinos, bars, and strip clubs. From what I see captured early in the morning and shared on Facebook, the same restriction should be applied to bog-standard cameraphones. 

And iPads should be banned from concerts.

Even though handheld touchscreen devices may help solve a heinous assault on the public, we should also be alert to how technology has redefined privacy. [2] Most of my friends equate CCTV with good behaviour, especially when seeing images of perps gleaned from cameras operated by businesses. But when everyone is a CCTV machine, activated by voice, augmented by gigabytes of on-person storage, who gets to control the on/off switch. How can you decide to block or mute or squelch? How do we express "all rights reserved" and "no recording" when we're in a public setting?

Or has that expectation already passed in this era of always-on personal social networking?


1. James Poniewozik -- "Bloody Visions: What Would the Boston Bombing Look Like in the Google Glass Era?" in Time Magazine, April 18, 2013.

2. Michael Zhang -- How Wearable Wearable “Sousveillance” Cameras Will Transform Our Society on Petapixel, November 4, 2012.

3. Bruce Schneier -- "The Boston Maraton Bombing: Keep Calm and Carry On" in The Atlantic, April 15, 2013.

4. Jay Lindsay -- "Teen stunned at portrayal as bombing suspect", Associated Press, April 18, 2013.

Bernie Goldbach teaches creative multimedia students in the Limerick School of Art & Design.

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