Oligarch's yacht has a laser anti-photo screen

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73 Responses to “Oligarch's yacht has a laser anti-photo screen”

  1. Mark Temporis says:

    I’d expect it to be more effective for the bond-villain wannabe to have a bunch of ex-KGB thugs patrolling the area to physically discourage any would-be paparazzi.

    Be more fun IMO anyway.

  2. hep cat says:

    For those who don’t believe the CCD retro-reflector thing, put a cellphone camera at one end of a long dark hallway pointing at the other end. Go to the other end and shine a flashlight sighting down the flashlight as though it were a gun, or just hold it the way they do in cop shows on TV. You will see how it works quite vividly. The laser part is just so that the device can scan the area and pinpoint where the camera is.

  3. SamSam says:

    We dig it, although the British courts might not be so pleased. UK photo magazine Amateur Photographer asked a London lawyer about the legalities of destroying photos from afar. Here’s what he said…

    I think there’s a confusion in the word “destroying” a photo. It sounds like the lawyer, and maybe others, believe that there’s a pre-existing photo that’s being destroyed. That’s not the case.

    Instead, if a laser it pointing at a camera while it’s taking the photo, it takes a photo of a big red glare. But there was no original photo that had been destroyed — no good photo had been taken.

    This is no different from someone “destroying” a photo by turning on a bright overhead light as the photo is being taken, thus casting the subject into shadow, or even “destroying” the photo by throwing a blanket over the subject’s head.

    I’d say it’s fair game, except I’m worried about the technology spreading to, say, train stations, so that the city can prevent you taking pictures of the station.

  4. foxtails says:

    What happens if there’s more than one camera pointing at the yacht?

  5. 2k says:

    The local population of cats will soon learn to avoid teh lazirs.

  6. Moriarty says:

    Apparently this yacht is also equipped with a missile defense system and bulletproof windows, and its owner travels with a “private army” of 40 armed guards, in addition to the roughly 70 crew needed to operate the yacht. He’s linked to all sorts of nefarious dealings, including stealing an entire train and a number of mysterious deaths of factory managers and journalists, and owes much of his fortune to being a favored vassal of Boris Yeltsin, receiving ridiculously advantageous business deals from the state and even living in the Kremlin at one point.

    What I’m trying to say is that essentially he’s a James Bond villain, which explains both the extreme paranoia and the affection for laser cannons.

  7. spazzm says:

    @wylkyn:

    Because the government is evil and out to destroy us. Didn’t you get the memo?

  8. bolamig says:

    So this thing just detects retroreflectors? Seems like the obvious countermeasure is to put a stronger retroreflector nearby or on another boat. Better yet, use an infrared laser at the same frequency and aim at at the paparazzi jammer to confuse it. Laser wars!

  9. dculberson says:

    The laser would spend most of its time trying to blind any road signs visible in the area. Take that, YIELD!

  10. Bugs says:

    Moriarty –
    a) Nice summary of his life; if even half of what I’ve read about him is even half true, he’s a very nasty piece of work with some very shady connections to some very powerful people.

    b) Seeing “essentially he’s a James Bond villian” coming from someone called Moriarty made me smile. Sheer poetry.

  11. mdh says:

    intermeddling with goods belonging to someone else, or altering their condition, is a trespass to goods and will entitle the photographer to claim compensation without having to prove loss.

    But this device operates –before– and –as– the photo (the goods) isn’t taken. It doesn’t destroy existing photos or the cameras. You could probably argue that it alters images, but not that it alters images already captured.

    in short, fine by me.

  12. AlanJ says:

    Perhaps he should have bought a submarine instead.

  13. semiotix says:

    I’d say it’s fair game, except I’m worried about the technology spreading to, say, train stations, so that the city can prevent you taking pictures of the station.

    But then you could also, presumably, prevent the city from taking 300 pictures of YOU while you were at the train station. Which I’m guessing would be of interest to many BB readers.

    Unfortunately for crypto-anarchists and klepto-billionaires alike, though, this theoretically sound technology still seems to require an enormous dollop of fairy dust before it will actually prevent anyone from taking a picture. Too bad; on a gee-whiz level it sounds pretty cool.

  14. ab3a says:

    He’d be very wise not to try that against someone in an aircraft. Most countries have laws against pointing lasers at aircraft.

    If he’s ever in the port of Baltimore, I’ll be happy to take someone up for a photo shoot…

  15. Dave Hustava says:

    About ten years ago, we were visiting some friends in Seattle, and we were sailing around in Puget Sound.

    Our friends showed us Bill Gates’ compound, and we sailed within about 500 feet of his shoreline, snapping pictures with our friend’s digital camera and yelling out “Bill! Bill! Come on out here and have a drink with us!”

    Guys in black suits and earpieces were on the dock and the shoreline in seconds, and after a few minutes the harbor patrol came along and shooed us away.

    When we got home that night and loaded the camera’s content into their computer, the photos of Gate’s territory were scrambled noise, like a dead TV channel – and ONLY the Gate’s photos were affected that way.

    Don’t know how he did it, but he did SOMETHING….

  16. justanotherusername says:

    Anti-Paparazzi Clutch Bag (with pictures of the device in action)

    “Designed by Adam Harvey, the Anti-Paparazzi Clutch Bag is designed to deter photographs by reporters or paparazzis. When the device detects camera flash, it will send out a brighter flash to blind the camera with its built-in LED flash. The sensor can register flash fired from up to 45 degree angles from any direction and works effectively at up to 1/125 shutter speeds.”

  17. Anonymous says:

    That looks like a Syd Mead yacht design.

  18. 2k says:

    Actually your camera was the only thing recording what was actually there.
    The hideous reality remains hidden from our eyes dut to en extensive doping campaign; drugging our air and water.

    The truth is that Bill is not a self-made Billionaire or even a Hyperdimensional shape shifting lizard but an eddy of pure chaos burning itself into existence.

  19. Anonymous says:

    um, no one seems to have mentioned the fact that ALL DSLRs (with the exception of the Canon EOS 20Da and cameras that have been modified by the users) HAVE INFRARED FILTERS ON THEM. This is the reason that infrared photography with digital cameras requires modifying the camera to remove the infrared filter.

    Not that I like quoting random websites, but if you type “infrared dslr” into Google, the first thing that pops up is http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/infrared%20dslr.shtml which states “what the company does is to remove the Infrared blocking filter that all cameras have in front of their sensor”

    So yeah, infrared laser 0, camera user 1.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Find out what type of laser they use (prob a He-Ne) and just slap that filter in front of your camera. Of course what are the odds that your average photographer is packing a set of laser filters?

  21. wylkyn says:

    I get a lot of mixed signals from Boing Boing about privacy and photography. On the one hand, there are articles outraged at the restriction of photographs taken by citizens at various public places. Then there are the articles outraged at photographs taken of citizens in public places (such as CCTV cameras). Now you have an article which seems to support the sabotage of camera equipment belonging to citizens taking pictures of other richer citizens. What kind of photography am I supposed to support and what kind of photography am I supposed to despise? It gets a little confusing.

  22. jerwin says:

    “even if you’re using $100 bills as ballast, i dont see how a yacht can cost $1.2 billion…”

    The lasers cost $1.1 billion. Yacht was regular price.

    Let this be a lesson to you. When someone’s designing and building a yacht for you don’t change the design midway through construction Also, the yacht has an anti-missle system for when the yacht’s traveling in piracy infested waters.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I see other people have mentioned James Bond. I’m also reminded of a scene where they had a photo of a ship and it was taken from an American tourist they killed.

    See someone taking a photo, assume its a spy for the police, some other government, their enemies and kill them. Whoops just a tourist and the photo would have been no harm to anyone, if anything someone truly admiring their ship, oh, well, now the film goes into our collection since its our ship and it is a good photo…

  24. The Raven says:

    “The camera detection system relies on sweeping the scene with a low power laser and looking for an unusually bright and direct reflection.”

    To my bright beady eyes, it seems that this is likely to detect and attack eyes.

    Or maybe that’s a feature…

  25. Anonymous says:

    I couldn’t care less about this alleged paparazzo-death-ray, but that “yacht” looks like a vehicle from Star Trek from about 20 years ago. Before Roddenberry died and it got all grim-n-gritty again.

    Or, yeah, the secret base of a James Bond villain.

  26. me3dia says:

    Interesting — of course any paparazzi using old fashioned film wouldn’t be affected.

  27. robcat2075 says:

    Suppose I set up 10 decoy CCDs? How is the laser system going to know which to blind while I’m taking a picture with mine?

    The premise sounds preposterous if you think if thru a bit.

    This guys is supposedly worth $8.5 billion, and he spends 15% of that on just a yacht? That’s too big a proportion of his wealth for a yacht. Even one with ineffective lasers.

  28. bklynchris says:

    WAIT, why isn’t anyone asking the obvious? What don’t they want you to take a picture of?

    Skeet practice with babies……

  29. owza says:

    I agree with samsam, it does not destroy the photograph, you just you end up taking a photograph of a laser beam rather than a yacht. Now where did I put my pinhole camera…

  30. mdh says:

    “I get a lot of mixed signals from Boing Boing about privacy and photography.”

    Almost like there were four (plus guests) independent voices speaking.

  31. knodi says:

    First of all, I’m skeptical that it works (paparazzi use pretty long telephoto lenses, and CCDs are pretty small- this thing had better be as accurate as hubble.)

    And on the same note, even if it works, what’s the wobble rate? What kind of liability does this guy have if he accidentally blinds a “journalist”?

  32. owza says:

    Can I fit the system to my Bugatti Veyron?

  33. danlalan says:

    Does this guy have a secret island base inside a volcano someplace too?

  34. Dave Faris says:

    I’m wondering if it’s illegal to jam a radio signal in the UK, or blocking cellphone coverage in an auditorium or what have you.

    But I’m with you, Knodi — it sounds more like the billionaire was dazzled by some techie con men, and never thought to actually see if it really worked.

  35. xzzy says:

    I imagine this same effect could be accomplished with a single floodlight, operated by a single guy being told to aim the lamp at anyone with a camera. Make it infared (which I think interferes with CCD’s as well) and no one will even see it.

    But I guess if you’re a billionaire, paying for ridiculous solutions will seem like the more intelligent choice.

  36. syncrotic says:

    Destroying existing photos from afar might be a problem, but I can’t imagine that preventing them from being successfully taken is the same thing. That would be like suing someone for walking into frame and ruining your shot.

    Also, visible and infrared light aren’t regulated, for pretty obvious reasons. Your communications regulatory agency isn’t concerned with anything above the radio spectrum. That’s not to say there aren’t other regulatory agencies that can step in… in the US, the sale of high power lasers is restricted by the FDA.

    I find it amazing that some company somewhere would build such systems… there’s that much of a market for protecting the privacy of the stupidly wealthy? That aside, cool tech. I want one, because anything that automatically aims lasers at targets is, by default, awesome.

  37. Anonymous says:

    “On the one hand, there are articles outraged at the restriction of photographs taken by citizens at various public places. Then there are the articles outraged at photographs taken of citizens in public places (such as CCTV cameras). Now you have an article which seems to support the sabotage of camera equipment belonging to citizens taking pictures of other richer citizens.”

    Very confusing, I know… let me see if I can help you understand:
    The problem with using surveillance cameras as a blanket solution to crime prevention/prosecution is that they are not a very reliable or cost-effective way of deterring crime, and are being paid for by public funds, without necessarily being approved by the majority of taxpayers. (It’s also ostensibly creepy to know you are being watched by your own government.)
    And while the governmental argument is that you have no expectation of privacy in a public place, and must therefore submit to constant surveillance, you’ll find the same police departments that are responsible for cctv arguing that private citizens must not be permitted to photograph certain public spaces, because that is somehow a “security risk.” You can see how infuriating it is to be told that you may not take a photograph in a place paid for with tax money, yet must also accept that you will constantly be photographed in any place paid for by tax money.
    (Also there is the legal anti-stalking argument that you should be free from being systematically photographed against your will- something public cctv cameras and paparazzi do, but is not equivalent to the occasional stranger captured in tourist photos.)

    A yacht isn’t really comparable to either of those scenarios though, because the purpose of buying a yacht is to travel in private. And much like I have every right to turn on a floodlight to ruin the photos someone might try to take photos of (or into) my house, Russian oligarchs are welcome to turn on their lasers to ruin paparazzi pictures. Though, as awesome as they are, most lasers would not be capable of harming camera equipment (but they might put an eye out!).
    (Arguably though, it could be argued that any Russian oligarch’s property has most likely been paid for by public funds, and should be exempt from privacy expectations- but I’ll save that for another day.)

    Also, lasers.

    Pew pew.

  38. danlalan says:

    What kind of photography am I supposed to support and what kind of photography am I supposed to despise? It gets a little confusing.

    Yeah, boing boing, get your act together and tell us what we like and don’t like, already.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I can’t remember where I first heard of blinding cameras with lasers, but here’s another example: http://www.c-h-a-o-s.com/2007/08/11/sniping-the-security/

    The problem with lasers, though, is they only emit one wavelength of light. It’s not hard to filter out the one wavelength that is being used, and still get a very decent photo. Oh sure, you can switch it up, or up the power (to a limit, before you’re breaking laws and risking blinding people), but that just leads to an arms race the paparazzi can’t lose.

    This Russian bought in to some snake oil.

  40. oyvinja says:

    One step closer to invisibility!
    Today – no pictures. Tomorrow – no perception!

  41. LightningRose says:

    $1.2 billion sure doesn’t buy much these days.

  42. Yep says:

    Cheaper than deploying a team of frickin’ sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their frickin’ heads.

  43. danlalan says:

    “intermeddling with goods belonging to someone else, or altering their condition, is a trespass to goods and will entitle the photographer to claim compensation without having to prove loss.”

    Anyone else see a moneymaking opportunity here?

  44. Anonymous says:

    It doesn’t detect the CCD, it works by detecting the lens, just like every other “hidden camera locator” technology does. Film cameras would be affected just the same. What I don’t agree with is that the laser would be “intermeddling with goods belonging to someone else”… a camera is designed to receive light, and by firing the laser, you are just choosing which light the camera receives… nothing more. PS, the laser does not destroy the camera either, it just whites out the photo. I’ve done it several times with a laser pointer and a number of cameras, both digital and film. This is also how security cameras are foiled by high tech criminals.

  45. jowlsey says:

    I’ve been wondering for a while if a system like this could be installed on a car to defeat speed / red light cameras. Tie it in with your http://www.trapster.com account and GPS, and the lasers could start firing as you approach the cameras.

  46. MarkM says:

    even if you’re using $100 bills as ballast, i dont see how a yacht can cost $1.2 billion…

  47. Aloisius says:

    The type of cameras this person is worried about are mostly ones with very long telephoto lenses. After all, the issue here is seeing things happening onboard – not photographs of the ship from afar. Telephoto lenses exhibit a *very* strong retro-reflective effect making detection relatively easy.

    As for blinding with IR being defeated by filters, there is no reason why you can’t use a low powered visible pulsed laser or if you really want to get around filters, multiple lasers of different wavelengths.

    Anti-sensor technology has been use by the US military. The Stingray was a Bradley tank that would scan the field with a near-IR laser to detect reflections from enemy sensors and then would fire a more powerful laser to disable it.

  48. soupisgoodfood says:

    @#33: But IR light can still get through since the filters aren’t perfect. If the laser is powerful enough, it could still disrupt the image.

  49. Trent Hawkins says:

    #6 – just turn up the laser power and I can guarantee that no one will ever see this boat… or anything else for that matter.

  50. ackpht says:

    This story is just to frighten away photographers. Even if it were true, effective countermeasures would be trivial.

    Now, if those lasers were attached to sharks…

  51. PrettyBoyTim says:

    I call shenanigans.

    Firstly, I doubt the yacht could detect CCDs in the first place. How would it do it? I doubt there’s some infrared frequency that only gets reflected by CCDs – the false positive rate would be so high lasers would be getting shot everywhere.

    Secondly, most SLR cameras don’t expose the CCD until the shutter is actually opened. Unless the system could detect the CCD, target the laser and shoot the beam within the shutter speed of the shot, it’s going to be too late.

    I think it’s just a rumour to put off paparazzi who value their equipment.

  52. arkizzle / Moderator says:

    no body, no crime (for countries where Habeas Corpus actually matters..)

    Oh dear, oh dear. Well caught AlexG.

  53. Anonymous says:

    @9:

    Yes, there are counter-measure systems available that target traffic cameras (also, systems that target laser/radar guns used to clock drivers’ speed).

    Not legal, though, in the US.

  54. astrochimp says:

    “even if you’re using $100 bills as ballast, i dont see how a yacht can cost $1.2 billion…”

    The lasers cost $1.1 billion. Yacht was regular price.

  55. Brainspore says:

    syncrotic #5:

    I find it amazing that some company somewhere would build such systems… there’s that much of a market for protecting the privacy of the stupidly wealthy?

    If they’re wealthy enough you only need a market of one.

  56. nosehat says:

    I assume that the illustration is an “artist’s rendition of what this yacht may look like”.

    Because if it’s a photo of the yacht in question… yeah.

  57. Anonymous says:

    The London Lawyer is incorrect. How is shooting a laser at the camera lens (to distort the photo) any different to put one’s hand, hold a bag, shine a flashlight, etc. in front of the camera so the camera doesn’t take a picture of you or your things?

  58. arkizzle / Moderator says:

    BklynChris,

    Skeet, or skeet?

    I don’t know which is worse.

  59. kenmce says:

    I’m going to speculate that this system does something else than what’s described in the article. The owner has extremely high level governmental connections. I expect that he has access to military technology. I have a vague recollection of a proposed military system that spent its time scanning for the reflections typical of high grade optics. (Waves to Aloisius) We know that Abramovich has a strong interest in security. We are all talking about cameras, but his real concern may be snipers. If it also zaps photographers, hey that’s a bonus. Maybe he sleeps better with the thought that it blinds snoopers of every kind.

  60. Anonymous says:

    It’s hilarious that the British government wants to protect the rights of paparazzi, but really doesn’t care a whole lot about anyone’s actual civil rights. It’s the only thing that comforts me about living in the US. At least the UK is worse.

  61. Schmeck says:

    prettyboytim #12:

    Secondly, most SLR cameras don’t expose the CCD until the shutter is actually opened. Unless the system could detect the CCD, target the laser and shoot the beam within the shutter speed of the shot, it’s going to be too late.

    Not to mention that before the shutter is released in a SLR, a mirror is reflecting the image up through the viewfinder. So, even if the system could somehow detect the camera, wouldn’t it risk shooting a laser directly into the photographer’s eye?

  62. ackpht says:

    Someone explain how a “laser” detects a small CCD chip inside a camera from several hundred feet away- I can’t.

    In my D70 DSLR, the chip is behind a mirror until I press the button and the mirror swings out of the way. That gives the yacht’s laser system a fraction of a second to detect the chip, target it, aim the whatever (presumably also a laser) at it, and fire the whatever.

    That I would like to see.

  63. Bugs says:

    The camera detection system relies on sweeping the scene with a low power laser and looking for an unusually bright and direct reflection. This works because the sensors in digital cameras work as “retroreflective surfaces”. These are unusual in that, unlike a normal mirrored surface, any light that hits it gets reflected back to its source (compare with a normal mirror, where light hitting it at 30 degrees will bounce off at 150 degrees, away from the source).

    Somehow the system is able to recognise this particular type of reflector. Then it just blinds the reflector by shining a slightly more powerful laser at it. Infra-red works well because it’s invisible and pretty much harmless to humans but camera sensors are very sensitive to it.

    There’s a clearer explanation here and a less technical NY Times article here.

  64. Anonymous says:

    Would it try to blind spy-satellites taking photos of it?

  65. robcat2075 says:

    I love that there are so many authoritative, yet contradictory explanations here

  66. sleze says:

    Even if this system actually worked, I don’t see how anyone could possibly make a non-frivilous claim that he damaged a photo. If someone kept shining a flashlight in the lens of a camera man every time he tried to snap a picture, he certainly couldn’t sue to stop it.

  67. Anonymous says:

    This story is helping me understand why CCTV cameras in England help solve so few crimes (1 crime per 1000 cameras?). Clearly, British citizens are walking around with powerful lasers, some of them mounted on pets.

    I love the discussions of legality – you think these guys care? Hahaha. They’ll vaporize you and your camera with their lasers – presto: no body, no crime (for countries where Habeas Corpus actually matters, so not including the US).

  68. AlexG55 says:

    Dave Faris@3: It is illegal to use a cell-phone jammer in the UK- they’re still sold, but with warnings saying that they should only be used abroad. I suspect jamming most other sorts of radio signal is also illegal unless you have a license to use that bit of spectrum in that particular area.

    Nosehat @57: a WIRED blog post on this explained that the photo is of Abramovich’s previous, smaller yacht (without the jammers). Also, they’ll probably only be switched on when he’s on board.

    Anon @62: John George Haigh, the “acid bath murderer”, also thought that Habeas Corpus means “no body, no crime”. It doesn’t. He was hanged in 1949.

  69. hep cat says:

    It’s fairly easy to detect a CCD or CMOS chip that is behind a lens pointed in your general direction , they make nifty retro-reflectors, and systems are sold for use in movie theaters and the like right now. Aiming a laser or other collimated bright light source would be pretty easy too.

    The problem is that the kind of still cameras that the paparazi would be using don’t expose the CCD or CMOS until the moment of exposure, so unless it can detect the camera and aim the laser in less than a thousandth of a second it just won’t work. It could be effective against point and shoot digitals, phonecams, and video cameras, just not DSLRs

  70. Lobster says:

    Sounds like a good idea until the first guy gets his binoculars fused to his eye sockets.

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