More people are wearing on-body cameras that film everything someone does. How will this alter your behaviour?

The rise of on-body cameras and how they will change how we live

Cameras, cameras, everywhere (Image: Reuters/Eric Gaillard)

SHORTLY after the US Supreme Court’s blockbuster decision on marriage equality, a short YouTube video made the rounds online. In it, a gay couple, recorded by a friend, wait in a Kentucky county office for a marriage licence.

But halfway through, the friend’s camera raises the ire of a nearby stranger, who whips out a phone and starts recording her own video. An amused bystander takes his out, too, panning back and forth between the duelling cameras. Three people angrily filming each other, one internet commenter noted drily: “That’s like the summary of the society we’re living in.”

It has indeed been a bonanza year for cameras: on-body ones that monitor police actions; free live-streaming apps to beam anyone halfway around the world; and high-tech surveillance devices that remember and recognise your face. Slowly, more and more of our world is captured on camera, raising new questions about what it means to live in front of the lens.

On-body cameras in particular have been received warmly in many cities, and are often seen as a gesture of good faith between police departments and the public. The devices are small and can unobtrusively record interactions from the wearer’s point of view, automatically uploading clips to an evidence room in the cloud. Last month, the mayor of London kicked off a plan to deploy 20,000 body-worn cameras with the Metropolitan Police. And earlier this year, the US government earmarked millions of dollars to buy them for police departments around the country, in response to public dismay over the deaths of black men at the hands of white officers.

“On-body cameras are often seen as a gesture of good faith between police and the public”

It’s not just the police getting cameras. Miami Beach, Florida, plans to give them to inspectors in their parking, fire and building departments. Cities in Texas have purchased them for animal control as well as for fire marshals and beach patrols. Two weeks ago, a school district in Iowa announced that its principals and assistant principals would wear small clip-on cameras during the coming school year to record their interactions with teachers and students.

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