Moral Panic Over Google Glass: White House Petition Asks To Ban Them To Prevent 'Indecent' Public Surveillance

from the takes-me-back dept

When cameras first came about there was a bit of a moral panic around them. People feared being photographed at all and so there were various concerns raised, moral panics followed, and even an occasional proposed law about how cameras could be used. It would appear that we may be approaching a similar moral panic around the coming launch of Google Glass. There’s been a growing buzz about “privacy” concerns around Google Glass — one that has even led former Homeland Security boss Michael Chertoff to worry about the implications, and suggest Congress and the FTC take a look. A publicity campaign called “Stop the Cyborgs” (seriously guys?) has sprung up offering Google Glass Ban Signs for places that want to ban the as-yet-unreleased technology. And, most recently, someone put together a White House petition urging the White House to ban the devices until “limitations on public surveillance” can be put in place. Not that the White House has that kind of authority, of course.

The whole thing seems to be screaming moral panic around a new technology, which still might not even catch on. Of course, even if Glass doesn’t catch on, this is how technology works, and sooner or later, someone will get this kind of product right, such that eventually it won’t even look odd like Glass, but will just fit into a contact lens or be directly embedded. That’s just how this stuff is likely to go. People can freak out about it all they want and demand that there be a law, but most people recognize that the technology is coming one way or the other, and that’s not going to change or go away. The right thing to do is figure out how to deal with it, rather than looking for ways to stop it. Though, just wait until someone at the MPAA wakes up and realizes that with Glass, someone will be able to record a movie…

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Comments on “Moral Panic Over Google Glass: White House Petition Asks To Ban Them To Prevent 'Indecent' Public Surveillance”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The question that needs to be asked...

I find this both ironic from the government and here as well. CCTV whether done by an individual or an institution in public spaces doesn’t invade privacy that much. We have constant surveillance now with the amount of CCTVs installed in businesses and used by private citizens that much of the expectations should long be gone now. Judges have pretty much thrown out the wiretapping issues as we have seen through cases brought by the police.
The thing is that the UK has pretty much shown that massive systems fail due to lack of staffing to monitor such systems. With individuals filming, we now have a distributed network of surveillance that is reviewed by many more people for better or worse.

Akari Mizunashi (profile) says:

Yep, as one article notes Americans aren’t likely to sacrifice freedom for safety, they’ll pay no mind to the ability to record anything and everything as technology allows them to.

Nice contradiction.

I’m not opposed to technology, but it scares the living shit out of me anyone can (eventually) start proving to be a society pawn, you can be recorded and uploaded to YT (live, soon!) to show what a pathetic person you are.

Imagine it now: “Dudez, this guy totally didn’t hold the door open for this woman. I’m at the [insert building here] in [insert state here].”

Forbid what happens when they’re driving.

jameshogg says:

From what I recall in George Orwell’s 1984, the proles did not have any telescreens in their homes because the Inner Party did not see the proles as a threat due to their naivety and lack of education.

I don’t think Orwell could have predicted a capitalist society where everybody genuinely does have a telescreen of some sort even if they are not wired directly to central government servers – the modern day equivalent would be your laptop and webcam.

Instead of cameras all hooked up to a central government server, what we have is a mass web of cameras where everybody can potentially be their own Big Brother, and record anything on the street with their camera phones, which might become a massive viral YouTube hit.

This can be both good and bad. Both cyber utopianism and cyber dystopianism need to be criticised, but utopianism more so as it is more prevalent. This RSA Animate video does a good job:

What is particularly interesting is the way he points to how fascists can crowdsource protest videos in order to identify protesters and report them to their dictators. It is not always the case that the internet can be beneficial in movements like these: sometimes it can be the secret police’s best weapon. In cases like these, you really do have your Big Brother situation.

Having said all this, it can be hard to see why CCTV cameras should be treated as the biggest privacy threat. Surely ALL cameras pose a risk of some sort, whether a close-up one on your phone that can capture faces perfectly, or a slow moving, blurry, low-frame rate camera on top of some obscure pole with a crap view of things. A policeman can either confiscate everybody’s camera phone’s hard drives just as much as they can take CCTV tapes, or just look at YouTube.

Google Glasses do not seem like such a big deal now, do they? At the end of the day, it is just another camera that is no more significant than hidden fiber cameras journalists hide in their ties. Whatever can be done on those glasses in terms of facial recognition, or video recording, can all be done on a regular phone anyway. And don’t forget that we only have so much storage space to hold all the footage before a) we run out of storage or b) we have to be charged for the storage. I do not know how much longer YouTube can go on taking its (last I checked) 72 hours a second upload rate before it has to start charging or removing old videos.

Ignis (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That might be exactly why the Google Glasses sound like such a big deal. People wearing them are likely aware of their camera-like capabilities. This awareness may be a fatal blow to a long-term Orwellian plan to install nanoscopic cameras on glasses and market them as usual glasses so people will unknowingly be walking surveillance machines.

out_of_the_blue says:

"the technology is coming one way or the other"?

So according to the premise of Maniac Mike here, you should all just shut up about DRM! It’s coming, inevitable, you can’t stop it with your “moral panic” on the outdated notion that you own hardware or software. Sheesh.

Listen, Mike, minions, and kids: just because something is possible doesn’t mean that society must allow it. At the worst, going slow is fine.

Ah, Monday. Back to the inane yapping of ankle-biters, the skimming of prior comments to see whether my valuable screen name has been mis-appropriated again! — And to answer a question the fanboys have, the name is valuable for the effect on you! — Last week it produced a fine bunch of irrational yapping, including the notion that because I only skim Mike’s polemics, it proves that Mike doesn’t have to bother with accurate reporting! See the “funniest” of week piece.

You know, in line with this piece, since I can’t reform you ankle-biters from just sheeer silly yapping, getting so I kind of enjoy your little bug-eyed panics.

Take a loopy tour of! You always end up same place!
Where Mike’s “no evidence of real harm” means he wants to let secretive mega-corporations continue to grow.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: "the technology is coming one way or the other"?

Ah, Monday. Back to the inane yapping of ankle-biters, the skimming of prior comments to see whether my valuable screen name has been mis-appropriated again! — And to answer a question the fanboys have, the name is valuable for the effect on you! — Last week it produced a fine bunch of irrational yapping…

I have only three words for you Blue:

Narcissistic personality disorder

special-interesting (profile) says:

Its a many way intersection with lots of choices on which way to go when it comes to technology. Since its normal that people want to visually document their own lives Google Glass is a natural outcome of culture and technology. Just banning a service or technology is like cutting off a cultural or technological foot so to speak. Its just a knee jerk reaction to something the we as a society do not understand.

The rules for privacy are still the same. If one is in a public area then there is no reason to expect privacy. There are likely certain civil and criminal law exceptions to photographing in public areas.

Like only photographing someone when they blow or pick their nose or scratch their ass. If such targeting is done in a way that intends to demean, blackmail or in some photographic way similar to libel or slander as applied to pictures/video this might have some legal traction. Also, stalking with or without a camera can be a crime so its hard to see what is the problem as there are already some legal remedies.

Private areas are a another matter. Public thoroughfares are historically a new development and it was inevitable that when traveling you wandered over private land many a time. There were no roads in most places. Only trails that followed passable routes not property lines. Parcels were on the average much larger in able to support animal grazing and farming. In the years following there was a long legal process of developing ingress and egress land easement rights and publicly owned roads.

Its probable that restaurants, clubs and private property owners would use a public notification sign to avoid whatever imaginary legal entanglements from such activities. The conflicts of photographing from public spaces and coincidental inclusions will be fun to see worked out in detail by the courts and legislation. Keeping in mind that just clicking a photo should never be a problem.

There might also be exceptions to posting a ‘no photo’ sign. In the same way Fair Use Rights apply to media this would naturally extend to documenting ones life photographically. What is news and journalistic intent? An accident, however embarrassing, is important to document? An event that affects culture and society itself is an important thing to document? A speech? An arrest or police action?

Would the person wearing/using such a life documentation tool like Google Glass or a life cam device be required to publicly display the device. Might a notice or light be required so that the person knows they are being recorded? There is legal precedence in this in that some states require a beeping sound to be played when anyone is recorded over the phone. A hidden camera is at the least… not polite.

Public land should always be open for photographic or video use without asking. It must be a default that its always OK but thats not the case already. Notices in US national parks like ?Filming and areas of the park require permission of the Park Ranger? kind of nonsense already exists. (Profiteering Idiots?) Of course there is a difference between one or two people filming for a documentary and a whole crew getting in the way of normal park operations.

Just like No Trespassing signs are placed on private property a No Photographing sign would also likely be applicable to the Google Glass and Life-Cam cultural path. No ‘moral panic’ is necessary. Since the White House Internet suggestion box is open to anything we will get more death star requests like this one?

Speaking of potential legislation it would be important for general public use that ?just taking a picture? does not become illegal. Its a natural thing to want to document or enshrine some event , place or people/groups/persons. Do not let natural everyday functions become illegal.

An example of how bad law/legislation can become an evil monster that allows private prisons and lawyers feed cannibalisticly off of a singled out class of people would be the drug laws (lets face it, who cares what good or bad habits you have) and copyright laws (wow. Didn’t we just have an article on how the blind support network was being targeted by the MPAA?). Each are a threat to culture and regulates opinions and habits of people/society based on some (likely religious and or profit motivated) targeted special interest written legislation.

So basically we have a freedom of expression argument with Google Glass and similar uses of low cost digital camera and storage technology. Hard to see what the problem is. Moral Panic? Its laughable. The right to do what we want, even if its dangerous, is a very American thing.

Once we have our life’s documentation by drawings, sound, photo or video how do we protect it? By full encryption of course. Encryption is the best way to put of a sign that the data is private. Everyone should do this because of the, most likely overly lax, privacy laws. There is now some legal precedence that protects this also.

Not covered is the fact that some will make publicly available their life cam data. What is needed is legislation that prevents any government from just copying that citizens private life.


From AC. If we don’t stop regulating daily activities we might make gestures like pointing a finger at our heads and pulling the thumb trigger and saying ?bang!? illegal. Its already been singled out in a grade school event so its already a problem. It would really be nice to see some heads roll, so to speak, and pink slips issued to those directly involved and the administrators who allowed such an unhealthy/panicky environment to exist in the first place.

tawsenior (profile) says:

What I really want...

What I really want from a device like Google Glass is a good Heads Up Display (HUD). As a motorcycle rider, I would love to have a compass, GPS, map, Caller ID, etc. available. As for the camera, everybody already whips out their phone at a moment’s notice to take pictures where ever they are. I just always assume that if I am around other people, there is a potential for photos to be taken.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What I really want...

Think about that for a minute, the car driver coming towards you is using the same technology to watch the big game of whatever sport they support. The potential abuse of such technology is such that it should be banned from use by drivers. If some think they can text while driving, they will also think they can watch tv while driving.

tawsenior (profile) says:

Re: Re: What I really want...

Now you’re going overboard. I’m saying that I want something with HUD capabilities and you’re talking about watching a game. I’m saying, design a device with specific functionality, much like your in car GPS unit, but wearable. Don’t add all the other pieces. Let it Bluetooth to your phone for the data connection, but not for entertainment apps. Keep it simple.

For the high end device, some safeguards can be put in place to monitor speed and limit app availability if you are obviously in a car. Also, haven’t you ever seen a driver with their phone mounted on their dash, watching YouTube videos? Those people are already on the Darwin shortlist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What I really want...I have watched a pedestrian try to walk in front of a 40 ton lorry whilst talking to their wife. However in ju,ping back they tossed the phone into the traffic, and by the time it stopped pin balling between vehicles it wa

The problem is the device will be hacked, or identical devices without the restriction will be available.
I have not seen the phone trick, but I have seen a potable TV in use by the driver, and someone reading a broadsheet whilst driving at 80 mph down a motorway.
While I have no strong objection to people killing themselves, I do object to them killing and injuring innocent bystanders.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What I really want...I have watched a pedestrian try to walk in front of a 40 ton lorry whilst talking to their wife. However in ju,ping back they tossed the phone into the traffic, and by the time it stopped pin balling between vehicles i

As you point out, this is already a risk. Why ban something because it can be used like this. Why not just bitch slap them with current reckless driving laws.

You ban the technology just because it can be abused, you remove the possibility of using it to become a safer driver. A HUD would help people be safer drivers as they wouldn’t have to take their eyes off the road as often.

gorehound (profile) says:

I am not going to be happy if there are peole walking around with these Cameras on their faces Recording me.I am already not happy with the fact I might be recorded already by our sucky Government but I will be pissed having to deal with what we are calling Glassholes.
I forsee the Rise of Glassholes as it seems to many people have turned into voyeurs watching their garbage reality TV so maybe they will want to Replicate it by doing their own little Glasshole Reality TV.
Here is the bottom line for me:
You record me and I see it I will ask you nicely to Delete what you filmed.If you do not I will call Law Enforcement if I can.I will of course have Researched this out before hand so I know already if and what I can do if filmed and No Release has been signed or offered.
And this is my calm Adult type response.The bad response I should not do is rip your camera to the ground and smash it.That Is what I won’t do.Legal System is the route I will will answer to me in Court if possible and if not then I have no choice but to shut up.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As far as I know you can record whatever you want whenever you want with any camera. And 100% of the mobile market have cameras. So what’s the big deal? And how do you plan to identify who is recording anything with the glass and who is just surfing? Call the cops whenever you see people using it while looking at you?

Come back to reality. There’s nothing we can do about it, what’s public is public. The best you can do is to ask those who visit your house to take off the glass and put it away.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

As far as I know you can record whatever you want whenever you want with any camera

This is true (with a tiny number of specific exceptions), as long as you are recording it in a place you are legally allowed to be.

You don’t need to get a release from the people you photograph or record unless you are going to publish or broadcast the images — and even then, you don’t always need a release.

Anonymous Coward says:

What about...

Public restrooms? Recording PIN numbers at ATM’s? Recording signatures? I can see it now, You Tube channels popping up of people farting and urinating in restrooms, the guy behind you recording you entering your PIN number or signature, 3rd parties installing face and product recognition software. How cure, Jr. is making his own lunch, let’s see which products are being used and e-mail you hoards of advertisements and coupons. Sure it’s easy enough to say “but there’s camera’s on cell phones” However you know when someone is probably taking a picture when they’re holding the phone up (try holding your phone up to the next guy you see taking a dump and see how well that works out for you.) Glass is much more stealth. Sure we can worry about people recording us picking our noses, however identity theft will skyrocket!

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: What about...

Now that’s some legit worry. I suppose it’ll go like webcams and you’ll have some led that will always turn on if the camera is being used. It’s kind of useless since you can trample with the equipment to make the led remain off. Still, if I put my cellphone on my shirt pocket and enter the toilet with it recording nobody will notice so it’s already an issue. Maybe you’ll see the end of men’s restrooms with those ‘open’ places to urinate but other than that the worst part of it is done behind closed doors, isn’t it?

Pins? Check if there’s anybody nearby and block the screen with your body. Most of us do it already. Identity theft? It already happens without such things, the solution is to have safeguards against it using confirmation mechanisms (such as fingerprints). These are workable. Signatures? We use microchips password protected to avoid such things. I personally find the way credit cards are processed in the US very, VERY insecure. Operators will need to adapt.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: What about...

These are real concerns — but they are real concerns right now, even if Google glass never hits the market at all. Portable, wearable, invisible spycams are cheap and readily available. Anyone around you could very well be recording you and you would never know it was happening.

If anything, Google Glass is actually better on this score because at least you can see that the person is wearing them.

Greggore says:

Simple solution...

Update the laws to reflect reality.

Everything I can see I have the ability to remember, and everything I remember I have the right to record hence everything I see I have the right to record.

If the general population has to live with the idea that at any time they might be on camera and have to behave accordingly, then the same should go for the Police, Government, businesses and all copyrighted material.

This will solve the problems of countless laws on the books.

stop the cyborgs (user link) says:

Technology is not some magical natural force it comes as a result of social and economic processes. It also perpetuates social and economic processes. We do not have to simply ‘deal with it’ we can proactively shape it and choose our future.

We happen to believe that:

(1) People should be in full control of their bodies and hence any wearable or implantable devices they use.

(2) Social norms around technology need to be proactively shaped and that we should be able to ask people to remove; turn off devices or otherwise reassure people that they intend to respect their privacy.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

(1) agreed, we don’t fully control even our mobile phones

(2) Social norms shape themselves and mutate over time. You are already able to ask so and the users of current technology (and upcoming Glass) are already able to ignore you if in public places. You can stop them from entering your house if they don’t do as you ask and call the police in more extreme cases.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

People are wary

I doubt these devices will be banned because there is too much money to be made in getting people to track/monitor/tag themselves and others all the time (that is the principle behind Facebook, after all).

But as this article says, once you are aware that everything you do potentially gets recorded, if you are smart, you modify your behavior in response.

The surveillance is non-stop, and most of it isn’t being done by government.

The Real Privacy Implications of Google Glass | “On social networks, the general rule is that you should always assume anything could become public. While most of us will never have to deal with a scandal caused by information leaked from social media, the mere possibility is enough for us to watch what we say on social networks. Google Glass has the potential to bring that kind of guarded approach to the real world, even in private settings.”

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: People are wary

I really believe the line drawn between private surveillance and government surveillance will disappear before long and all data collection/monitoring will be handed over to private companies, who will then be given the go-ahead to predict people’s behavior, hopefully to improve public safety as a result.

It’s not that I trust private companies more than government (in fact I am concerned by the lack of oversight with private companies). But politically it’s just easier to take the fight out of DC and give it to companies that are lobbying for the right to do the surveillance/monitoring/tagging anyway.

Companies already identify who is likely to be a credit risk. They already identify people’s behavior enough to set insurance rates. They are determining who will buy what to give different people different prices for the same goods/services.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: People are wary

As I am pondering what private companies can do with all the monitoring they do, I can envision something like this.

Companies don’t want mass murders on their property. But right now the discussions are about gun control, citizen protection, etc. People are talking about what government can do to beef up protection and security.

But let’s say that big data starts to identify potential mass murders, terrorists, etc. And that info can be made available (via private security companies) to businesses that care to purchase it. So the businesses develop their own security systems that only let “approved” people get in. Think of it as a kind of doorman/bouncer who dictates who gets into the bar. Or a shopping club that only lets members in.

If you take government out of the picture, security doesn’t go away. It just gets privatized and questionable people don’t get in.

Imagine if airports all ran their own security, without the government involved. I suspect profiling would be used quite a bit and some people wouldn’t pass the necessary tests.

As I said, private companies have far more data on people than government does these days and I imagine that if the politics of security and safety gets in the way, the job will just be handed over to private companies that aren’t held accountable for civil liberties.

Anonymous Coward says:

The bid deal

I think part of the reaction to Google Glass stems from the fact that it psychologically represents a tipping point in technology and privacy. As many have pointed out, it’s already the case that you might be recorded any time you’re in public. So what’s the big deal?

There’s a coming transition from an era when you might get recorded occasionally, to one where you will be recorded, everywhere, all the time. All that footage will live in the cloud, much of it publicly, and be searchable with image and face recognition software.

Some people want to live in that fishbowl. They crave the attention. Others dismiss it, figuring that no one will be interested enough to look. A few of us just find the very possibility deeply disturbing.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: The bid deal

There’s a coming transition from an era when you might get recorded occasionally, to one where you will be recorded, everywhere, all the time. All that footage will live in the cloud, much of it publicly, and be searchable with image and face recognition software.

That’s the issue. Corporations want us to record everything around us, tag everyone around us, share it with everyone else, etc. So people are being encouraged to run those recording devices non-stop and then upload what they have to public forums.

They want us to share our address books with them so they can keep track of everyone we know (and they may or may not spam our friends). I’m getting daily messages from Facebook using email addresses that I have used professionally, but are not linked to any Facebook accounts. People who have given Facebook their contact list may not know that Facebook is contacting me on their behalf.

Modern devices have been created to monitor us. Unless we quit using them, we will be monitored. Call it surveillance or call it marketing and data collection, but it is being done.

Anonymous Coward says:

That boat has sailed, cameras are everywhere, some you can’t even spot it, you can buy a pair of recording-glasses as low as $20 bucks today, Google Glass is not something new it may be the iPhone of the class, but by no means is something new.

Doubt? here:

I think is natural that some are afraid of the damn thing, I was concerned, then I realized it can’t be stopped without hurting my own freedoms, for good or bad those things are here to stay, people will have to learn to live with it somehow.

One good point is that this is not controlled by a shoddy government, this is controlled by people, what we do with it will reflect what we are, is time to learn to deal with problems, is time to change, is time to grow up.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

… I realized it can’t be stopped without hurting my own freedoms, for good or bad those things are here to stay, people will have to learn to live with it somehow.

That’s the point, though. People are constantly being monitored now. Like I said, you can call it surveillance or you can call it marketing/big data, but the monitoring is going on.

Mikael (profile) says:

Read the comments

If you haven’t read the comments on that BS site I would suggest doing so. Basically this guy’s main argument is that he believes Google records everything “seen” through the camera of GG and stores it all on their servers. He says that anything you do with GG no matter which app is being used will have it’s data sent to Google where it is stored forever. He also seems to think the camera on the GG is always on and recording / streaming online back to Google no matter what else you are doing.

Someone brought up the point that you can do the same stuff with a cell phone, but his reply was that the form factor discouraged it’s use. So in other words he feels that the only thing keeping people from recording video and taking pictures of everyone around them at all times is the thought that someone may know they are doing it. Wearing GG could hide the fact you were recording and more people would do it.

Personally recording video and taking pictures isn’t the main function that I care about with GG and I would have no reason to go around town recording video of everyone at random. When I’m out in public and decide to record video of whatever, I don’t care if someone knows I’m recording. If I’m recording video of someone/something or taking pictures I’m doing it for a reason and not just to do it. It’s perfectly legal to record video/audio and take photos in public.

One of my favorite comments on the site is from a guy who points out the irony of it. The creator is so concerned with Google tracking and storing user information, but creates the page on and cannot disable google tracking.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Gotta love this

I keep pointing out that much of the surveillance is being done by private companies, not government. And if those companies will sell the info, then all government has to do is contract with them.

The Google Glass Wink Feature Is Real | TechCrunch: “The infrared sensor, on the other hand, is far more mysterious. Google hasn?t really spoken up about it much, though sources around the web tend to believe that the unidentified little sensor on the inner rim of the headset is indeed an infrared camera.”

The Libertarian says:


“Just wait until the media people get ahold of this, then nothing will be sacred.”

We have leaps and bounds in technology, but our own morality is diminishing. 3D printing can be used to make a heart. This can be used to record a movie. I really think the real problem has to do with our immorality.

If Copyright Laws were either repealed or reformed in the Public’s favor, then there would be less to worry about Goggle Glass.

Anonymous Coward (user link) says:

This is an interesting topic and I never thought of it in the context of some stranger just randomly being able to dial up my info using Google Glass on say the subway. Riding the subway, you could potentially identify whomever is in the train car with you. Look up their arrest records. obviously for whatever database is available to the public, would be helpful in switching cars for safety reasons. I wonder if the subway/metro systems would ban Google Glass? As you know there appear to be no bans on smartphones.

Mona says:




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