It sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? A paranoid,”homeland security” on steroids vision of total control? But Cameras everywhere did not come not from a law enforcement announcement. (Remember when Austin Police Department Chief Acevedo proposed that the answer to hate crimes against queer people was video cameras on every corner?) Cameras Everywhere was actually an initiative of the human rights organization Witness, the motto of which is: See It. Film It. Change It.
Witness does recognize that ethical issues present a “key challenge”; see this important article by Sam Gregory, “Cameras Everywhere: Ubiquitous Video Documentation of Human Rights, New Forms of Video Advocacy, and Considerations of Safety, Security, Dignity and Consent” at the Journal of Human Rights Practice, Vol. 2, Issue 2. (2010), 191-207, first published online May 21, 2010.
On the one hand, it’s important to document human rights abuses. George Holliday did when he came across LA police beating Rodney King in March of 1991; and last week videographers caught NY police pepper spraying protesters on Wall Stree (sorry about the advertisement preceding the video). See also this video of police abuse in Puerto Rico, posted on the Witness blog only a couple of weeks ago, on September 19.
But cameras everywhere? Really?
The roommate of Tyler Clementi videotaped and then broadcast Clementi in an intimate moment in his bedroom. Clementi, feeling humiliated, killed himself.
Granted, there are differences between public actors/government employees and private individuals; public streets and bedrooms; between beating people up and consensual relations. It’s easy to distinguish between filming in these radically different situations at opposite ends of a spectrum. But there are lots of spaces, lots of people, and lots of behavior in the middle.
Witness recently made public its report “Current Challenges and Opportunities at the Intersection of Human Rights, video, and technology” on the “Cameras Everywhere” campaign.
The “Cameras Everywhere” campaign gets to the heart of the issues we’ve been wrestling with the last two weeks in our Listen for a change: oral history & social justice workshops: are there some stories that we shouldn’t facilitate? does the narrator get to decide what happens always, even after the fact? In what ways are “actors” different from “narrators” — and can we distinguish “good guys” from “bad guys” in human rights work? When do cameras promote human rights, and when not? Who decides?
Even though this post says “comments are closed” (an accident, I don’t know how to open or close comments!), I look forward to hearing your responses to the report — either Tuesday at 5 pm or whenever. Write to email@example.com.
Copyright 2011 Virginia Raymond