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Jamais Cascio, 4 Feb 04

If you've been on the Internet for more than just this last year, you'll remember the ubiquitous and annoying pop-up ads for wireless video cameras. Advertised as a method for seeing who's at your door or providing a bit of quick & dirty security, the pop-ups often implied that what you'd really use them for is spying on the neighbors. Well, it turns out that lots of people have purchased wireless video cameras, and the dirty little secret is... they really do use them for quick & dirty security.

This, at least, is the discovery of the "warviewers," techies with the appropriate pieces of hardware to pick up wireless video signals on the run and the time and interest to actually seek out such devices. Warviewing (or, more commonly, Warspying) involves seeking out the unencrypted, unshielded broadcasts the cameras transmit, usually by walking around with an antenna, receiver, and display. So far, what the warviewers are finding in their (completely legal, if a bit odd) excursions are a lot of cameras pointing at doors, lobbies, and freeways.

Okay, so wandering around hoping to see something more interesting than the UPS delivery guy on camera isn't exactly world-changing, but it's interesting to think about the parallels between open-access wireless networks and open-access wireless cameras, especially as WiFi-based cameras begin to replace the older "X-10" type. Could it be that allowing anyone to see what the camera sees is socially beneficial? Does having wireless (and accessible) cameras mounted in semi-private/semi-public locations reduce privacy or increase our safety by letting us watch each other's backs? It may be that open-access wireless video cameras are less a tool for voyeurism and more a tool for participatory transparency. It may even become something of an update on the group Witness, which provides video cameras to people fighting for human rights.

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