Surveillance Camera Man wants to know why we accept CCTVs but not a creepy guy with a camcorder

"Surveillance Camera Man" is an anonymous fellow who wanders the streets and malls of Seattle with a handheld camcorder, walking up to people and recording them -- in particular, recording their reactions to being recorded. He answers their questions with bland, deadpan statements ("It's OK, I'm just recording video"), and sometimes mentions that there are lots of other (non-human-carried) cameras recording his subjects.

The videos are an interesting provocation. The underlying point -- that the business, homes, and governments who put CCTVs in the places where we live our lives are intruding upon our privacy -- is one I agree with. However, I think that Surveillance Camera Man's point is blurred by the fact that he sometimes invades his subjects' personal space, making it unclear whether the discomfort they exhibit comes from having a person standing right by them, or whether it's the camera they object to. There's also some childish taunting of easy targets (I'm no fan of the Church of Scientology, but surely the reason that the lady who keeps trying to throw him out is upset is that he's holding a camera and making fun of Scientology, and not the camera alone).

‘Creepy Cameraman’ pushes limits of public surveillance — a glimpse of the future?


  1. There is a massive difference (let’s face it) between say taking a photo of a drug store and a guy exiting (which nobody would have issue with) and being three feet away from somebody with a video camera in their face…if the CCTV was the same deal (people wandering around with video cameras like this) then they’d be made illegal inside a week as people would revolt…

    1. I think this is his point. The CCTVs that cover streets are essentially doing the same thing in a more discrete way. If the lack of discretion is the only issue, OK, but if constantly being filmed in an issue, he’s got a point.

      1.  I’ve noticed people have similar problems with cameras that explicitly move to track them. It’s not the feeling that they are being observed in general, but the feeling that they being observed /in particular/ that most people have a problem with, in my experience.

        (Of course, there’s plenty of people who have a problem with a person videoing them even in a discrete and nonspecific way, but whatever).

        1. I was thinking along the same lines.. is the camera watching everyone (CCTV), or is it singleling an individual (creepy guy)?

          There is also intention- people are rationalizing that CCTV is helping keep people and property safe, while creepy guy could be a personal attack.The guy is still making an interesting point though. And it even has some artistic insight into larger sociological topics such as politics, laws, and taboos. There are very few human rights that are unquestionable, then how do we all decide what is OK or not OK from there?

          1. I think that it’s in large part the personal targeting; the recording aspect of cameras is almost secondary. There is a large difference between someone idly gazing over a crowd and someone who sits there staring at you in particular.

      2.  I still think there is a big difference between being filmed for the purpose of crime prevention or evidence and some guy three feet away from you with a camera in your face…he’s essentially doing the “reduction to absurdity” argument…if CCTV is ok then so is a camera in your face…they just are not the same thing…

        1. I assure you, when I get filmed, it doesn’t prevent any crime.  Perhaps some little bit, when other people are around.  

    2. I hear people complain about cameras being “in my face” often.  That exact phrase.  It’s kind of funny how often it’s used by people objecting to someone filming them.

      But It’s not clear what they mean by this.  The camera is not literally in their face – it’s not close enough to their face to interfere with their vision, movement, or to threaten their safety.  If the camera was, say, a baseball, it would almost certainly be ignored completely.  Nobody would say “get that baseball out of my face” if you were standing four feet from them and holding one.

      When people complain about a camera being “in their face”, I think what they mean is that it’s in their immediate awareness.  It’s close enough and obvious enough that they cannot ignore it.  They’re objecting to being overtly filmed.  It’s not the filming that’s objectionable, it’s that the filmer is making impossible our only defense against being creeped out by surveillance: pretending it isn’t happening and trying to forget about it.

      1. Indeed.  For someone to slowly go through two dozen (or more) hours of CCTV footage to single out an individual would require considerably more effort than what would be required by an individual wandering around consciously pointing his camera at people.

        1. Actually the reverse is true.  Surveillance systems (particularly the sophisticated ones used by banks, government, and large corporations) are designed for identifying and tracking people.  They incorporate many cameras strategically networked for maximum coverage.  They come with software which uses face recognition, motion detection and zone tracking to make it extremely easy and sometimes even automatic to pinpoint individuals.

          Some dude’s handycam, on the other hand, is designed for recording movies of his kid’s birthday parties.  Especially considering that he is limited by constraints such as where he can stand, how long he can stay there, how long his battery will last, how long it takes to hand-process the footage, he is far less effective at invading privacy than the institutional cameras that we all take for granted.

          1. “Surveillance systems (particularly the sophisticated ones used by banks, government, and large corporations) are designed for identifying and tracking people. ”

            Banks have notoriously poor surveillance systems in comparison to other comparable industries – there’s kind of long-winded boring reasons for this, but it comes to a lot of herd mentality, lack of concrete return of investment in an industry where ROI IS the business, and “lowering to meet regulation” tendencies.

            “They incorporate many cameras strategically networked for maximum coverage.”

            You might be surprised how non-Big Brother surveillance technology really is. In a lab / demo booth at a convention / at a sales pitch a lot of surveillance technology is startling / impressive, but real-world implementation almost always lags far behind.

            My pithy little industry quote when I give presentations about the prevalence of surveillance cameras and technology is “Yes, Big Brother exists, but it’s your kind of loser older brother that still lives with your parents and always is cobbling together his next Get Rich Quick scheme.”

        2. CCTV can easily signal out individuals.  i think you severely underestimate surveillance technology

      2. It’s the individual photographer as scapegoat for the national security–surveillance–corporatist state. No one can touch “The Man,” but anyone can tell a humble street photographer their opinion as to what he or she can do with that camera. And then it gets reinforced by concern trolls and others (some, indeed, sincere) worrying about the privacy of individuals in public (!?!) and nebulous things like “personal space” (again, in public?!?!). Would love all those folks to feel how this plays out on the photographer’s end, how basic rights like the First Amendment get Overton’d away by all the needless handwringing for those reflected photons I stole from you.

  2. I don’t mind that people around me can see and hear me, but if someone just started staring at me from a couple feet away and gave jerky answers, I’d think he was an asshole, camera or not.

  3. This cameraman is within his legal right. I get that. It would be illegal for someone else to try and forcibly take his camera, or spray it with spraypaint, or even assault the photographer.

    HOWEVER. I might suggest to Creepy Camera Guy that he retain a lawyer, and perhaps some sort of personal protection. People who feel their privacy is being invaded unduly tend to react negatively. And more forcefully than is portrayed here.

    1. That’s probably exactly what I´d do if some guy tried this on me: I’d pull up my cel phone and start recording him, and then we’d have a stand-off untill sombody ran out of batteries.
      That being said, It’s pretty obvious to everyone with a brain that this guy doesn’t really give a hoot about CCTV or privacy issues – that’s just his excuse du jour to justify him accosting strangers and generally being a dick. 
      A lot of that sh*t going around on Youtube these days.

  4. It does raise an interesting question that I’ve pondered for a while: Why such vehemence to defend the right of private photographers to take photos in any public space that they please, but against CCTV cameras doing the same thing?

      1. Well, yeah, but what if I stuck a video camera in my window, pointed at a public plaza. Is that better/worse/the same as the government’s camera on a building pointed at the same plaza?

          1. I’m not really talking about this guy in particular. I’m more talking about the general perception that:

            (a) Private citizens should be able to take pictures of anything they can see without trespassing without being hassled.

            (b) The government shouldn’t.

            I’m not arguing a point, really, just trying to wrap my head around the distinction.

          2. It is more complicated than being discussed here.  These laws also feed into public decency laws.

            It isn’t just “protect the photographer” laws.

    1.  If more papparazzi turned up with their knees blown out, they wouldn’t be such aggressive dicks. When portable EMP devices start hitting the black market, things will get even more interesting.

  5. Did anyone here actually watch the video? What the heck is happening with that screaming woman being dragged away at about 2:10?

    1. I am not 100% sure but it appears she may have been caught shop lifting. It seemed to be private security and not the police. 

  6. Well… I’d be more afraid of a guy with a camera than a CCTV because in addition to the privacy invasion I now also have a GUY near me with his body whose intentions I don’t know. I mean, there’s a difference between being filmed and being filmed by the guy who is assaulting you. 

  7. This video made me lol really hard. Not because of his political point, but just because of how irritated people get by the breaking of social norms. I imagine it would be the same if you went up and stood really close to a stranger, but it’s still funny… like that video awhile ago of the guys who went around trying to hold hands with strangers. Some of them just went along with it… for the record I HATE being videotaped, even by friends.

  8. I think that the idea of “expectation of privacy” as the only limitation is one that is being stretched by the omnipresence of video cameras and the ability to create a record that can be looked at after the fact.  How much would footage of a philandering spouse be worth to a divorce lawyer?  We can now record “everything” in case it might be interesting or useful later.  This is ever more akin to the traditional prohibition on “fishing expeditions” where searches are conducted without any indication that a crime has been committed

  9. > Surveillance Camera Man’s point is blurred 

    I don’t think his point is blurred, it is completely obscured.   Just because one thing is tolerated, doesn’t mean that that thing amplified 100 times should be tolerated.   There is a difference in degree and that difference matters.

    This guy is trying to make a point that because you are being watched in public in a limited way, it is the same as being watched in public in a very intensive way, which is obviously objectionable, so the limited way should be objectionable too.

    This is the zero-tolerance argument, it is just being used by the side who is anti-authoritarian, instead of the usual use by the authoritarian side, but it makes no sense either way.  

    Zero-tolerance arguments almost never make sense.  Judgment is important. Context is important.  Intention is important.  Meaning is important.  That is why it is ridiculous when some ignoramus administrator suspends a kid in school for having an aspirin because of a zero-tolerance drug policy.

    This filmmaker’s antics make just as little sense.

    That isn’t to say that CCTV cameras are universally okay; they aren’t.  But once again, it is matter of placement, intention, usage, privacy expectations, etc, that should define the problem.  For example, in limited use, in high-crime areas, with a reasonable expectation that it won’t be used on the internet or in a random video production might be fine, but a stranger making you look silly, without knowing it won’t appear in an objectionable display, is not okay.

  10. There are laws against stalking and trespassing, and when you follow people or sit down at their table without permission you violate them.  In the video of the man on the phone the cameraman is repeatedly asked to leave and he refuses.  In California that’s defined as civil harassment.  

  11. People don’t mind being watched, so long as they don’t know they’re being watched.  They don’t mind being tracked, so long as they don’t know they’re being tracked.  

    1. People also get used to the things around them, so even fairly obvious things like CCTV cameras end up blending into the background and are no longer perceived as a threat. There’s also the issue that a person with a camera who is a meter away from you can be persuaded to stop filming (or you could just knock the camera out of his hand), but finding a simple and legal way to avoid being recorded by CCTV in public is pretty much impossible. Added to that, many people will accept that businesses and government organisations using CCTV want to see you continue shopping, working or doing whatever supports the community. Creepy guys with cameras have a completely different set of stereotypes attached to them. After a while people decide that the benefits of living in a city outweigh its disadvantages, such as being constantly observed, so they just ignore the elements that are outside of their control.

  12. This reminds me…  Wasn’t there a creepy guy, in NYC, sometime the late 70s, maybe very early 80s, just after, I guess, VHS became portable enough, who would accost young women on the street and ask them to expose themselves in an alley, doorway or whatever, and he used whatever footage he got, to show on a Manhattan public access cable channel? I can’t for the life of me remember the guy or the circumstance, so does somebody else remember this? I think there was an article in the Village Voice at the time. Most women brushed him off quickly, however a fair number complied.

      1. Thank you very much for kindly helping and also expanding the knowledge of the current generation that the world has always been a strange place.

  13. It’s hopefully just a matter of time before this asshole gets tasered and arrested. He’s stalking and annoying people for his own fucked up personal amusement, and probably has a verbal abuse fetish, so he’s also a CHEAP asshole for not going to a prodomme to get his fix.

  14. I think this is sort of interesting as a social experiment and comment on surveillance in public spaces—if that’s the intention—but, in some of these cases, the videographer is clearly on private property. It ceases being just an issue of personal discomfort and becomes one of trespassing. 

    1. Being on private property is still an issue of personal discomfort, just with the addition of a bigger stick to get back to personal comfortable.

  15. This guy is brilliant. His antics show up how thin this veneer of civility we all wear really is and how our interiosity directs our unconscious actions.

    What I see happening here is that he’s putting people in a situation that removes most options of socially acceptable behavior and reactions. When this happens to people, we see their true self a little more clearly. And in these videos, their true selves are pissed.

    I find that when most people – myself included – find themselves in a confused state of mind, they often move quickly to Anger. But is this a conscious act or an underlying pattern we’re quick to fall into as a sort of short-hand for actually being aware and taking action based on the situation?

    Any one of these people could just have easily said hello and engaged with this guy in a friendly way. They could have but didn’t – which says a lot about them.

    If we see the camera guy as being a jerk, I think it’s because we all make assumptions about other people when we should take the time be aware and observe. People in the video all assume he’s recording for a purpose and if they only knew this purpose they could know how to react. Without a purpose or a reason though, their societal conditioning fails them, leaving a void of confusion. They can’t accept that there’s no reason and without someone telling them how they should react, they are forced to rely on that part of their consciousness that is unknown even to themselves.

    If we could only just trust this ability of being aware in any situation and not cling to our expectations when they’re challenged, we can have a great time in these situations. But when we cling to a need for rationality (often missing in emergency situations for example) that isn’t there, it leaves an opening in our personality for everything else to pop out. Who knows what?

  16. I am very much against a surveillance society, especially when there are so many unjust laws in this world.  That said, this doesn’t prove anything.  If I was standing around with friends and a dude came and stood inside of our circle and stared at me, I would be a little freaked.  I’m okay being in tight spaces with lots of people.  I live in a city and that is life.  I’m not okay with someone following me around.  It doesn’t follow that I am being irrational when I am okay with strangers incidentally being next to me, but get freaked when a particular stranger starts stalking me.

    In other words, it isn’t the camera, it is the dude.  Everyone would have reacted exactly the same if he didn’t have the camera and just wandered around staring at people.  The camera only makes it stranger and vaguely more threatening.

  17. Needs a GoPro on the shoulder and a T-shirt or shoulder sign that reads “Conversations may be recorded for training purposes”.

  18. I want to know how he does that magic trick in the YouTube thumbnail where he hovers a play button over his hand in mid air.

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