Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

Violence or Photography?

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

According to some I should be confessing my sins for the criminal behaviour of taking pictures of people in public places like this without first gaining their permission. Of course I don’t see it that way.

On the streets we have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” and while I think we should all – whether taking photographs or not – generally try not to behave in ways that give others reasonable call for upset, making a photograph does not usually fall into that category. Of course there are some photographers who have adopted a very aggressive approach which I feel is questionable, and there are offences such as stalking and ‘up-skirting’, but in general photographing people in public is not a criminal offence, even if those being photographed may not like it. And of course there is sometimes a strong public interest in photographing people who make it clear that they do not want to be photographed.

Mostly those I’ve photographed, at least in recent years, have been involved in protests, and making a protest implies a clear statement that you wish your actions to be recorded and there is also a clear public interest in doing so. But there is also a public interest in the recording and making statements about everyday life, the ordinary behaviour of people often unaware they are being photographed. So while I may occasionally have upset people by taking their pictures, and I may apologise that they feel upset, I’m not apologising for taking pictures or for my actions, but that I’m sorry that they think that way.

This doesn’t mean that I never ask people if I may take their picture. There are times and places where I do, usually when I need to work closely with them and take more than a single image, but more often to do so would mean missing the moment and failing to express what I saw as important to say.

I had to sort through my own ideas on this back around 1990 when I worked on a transport project taking pictures of people on buses. I don’t think there is a single picture I took for that where I asked for permission, and few that I could have made had I done so. Some were clearly aware that I was taking their picture, but most were not.

Only one person actually objected. He was a man sitting on a seat in a bus dressed in shorts with a snake around his bare upper body. I didn’t get a chance to reply to him, as two elderly women sitting to one side immediately butted in, telling him clearly that if he travelled on buses dressed like that he should expect to be photographed. I think his real objection was that I was not paying him – this was his working outfit, and he was on his way to pose with tourists in Covent Garden for a fee.

These thoughts were aroused by an article on PetaPixel, a response by Kansas City photographer Brandon Ballweg to an opinion piece published in the New York Daily News by writer Jean Son titled “When your photograph harms me: New York should look to curb unconsensual photography of women“. In Street Photography Is Not a Crime. Let’s Keep it That Way Ballweg describes her premise that any photographing of women in public places constitutes “gender-based violence“, as “hyperbolic and irresponsible” and goes on to comment on her behaviour and and arguments, as well as what seems to him (and me) her totally inconsistent later claim that “Garry Winogrand is one of my fave artists btw“. Somehow it was fine to photograph women (and men) on the street without their consent in the 1950s, 1960s, 70s and 80s as he so consistently did but now she considers it an offence.

Ballweg ends his piece – worth reading and illustrated by a number of Winogrand images – with a suggestion of a “rational, mature, adult way of dealing with a situation of you’ve been photographed” and don’t like it and goes on to suggest that if having someone take your picture causes you “such distress that you lobby to convene a task force to ban it” then it may be due to “some underlying personal issues that you need to work through and confront as an individual” rather than a problem with photography.

It’s perhaps a little harsh a statement, but reflects Son’s failure to distinguish between actual gender-based violence and the taking of photographs. It’s a vital line to draw if not always clear exactly where it lies, and one which the US Legal system has clearly failed to do in some cases as Son rightly points out.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Against Facial Recognition

Sunday, August 16th, 2020

I’m not sure if you need this. But for some people in some countries it could be very important, assuming that it works. I’ve always been very open on-line, posting only under my real name and everything I post is public. I’ve been careful though only to post things that I don’t mind everyone knowing about me.

As a journalist I’ve had some advice and training on privacy issues, particularly on messaging and e-mail, but haven’t ever felt I was in a situation where I needed to put this into practice. But I do sometimes worry a little about my pictures on line and how these might be used to build up profiles of some of those present by legal or illegal groups, including the police who are already making use of facial recognition in various city environments.

There have been various attempts to block facial recognition, both through the courts and through various subterfuges, including the use of masks and special makeup. Covid-19 has surely added to the problems faced by Dynamic Neural Networks in recognising individuals and whereas wearing a mask was often a criminal offence now you may be fined for not doing so.

What is new about Fawkes (it gets its name from the ‘Anonymous’ mask) developed by a team of students at the SAND Lab at University of Chicago is that it is the first tool to enable us to “protect ourselves against unauthorized third parties building facial recognition models that recognize us wherever we may go” that “gives individuals the ability to limit how their own images can be used to track them”, able to defeat the tools used by systems such as https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/5dmkyq/heres-the-file-clearview-ai-has-been-keeping-on-me-and-probably-on-you-too clearview.ai using deep learning to identify individuals.

The team explain how Fawkes works (and for the technical there is a publication and source code available on the site)

At a high level, Fawkes takes your personal images and makes tiny, pixel-level changes that are invisible to the human eye, in a process we call image cloaking.

They go on to state that “if and when someone tries to use these photos to build a facial recognition model, “cloaked” images will teach the model an highly distorted version of what makes you look like you.”

Original
Cloaked

I’ve downloaded the software (a small file available for Mac and PC) and run it on a picture or two. It was rather slow – but my first files were large. I tried it again on a couple of 600×400 pixel images to post here, and it took around 100s to convert the pair.

The differences are real but pretty subtle – easier to see if you right click to download the files then view them one after the other in your image viewer. The change between the two in each pair then gives me a slightly weird feeling

But these were both images of a single person and I thought I’d try it on something rather more complex but the same size. Although it said it would take about 1 minute, 5 minutes later I was still waiting, and waiting…. I went away and did something else and I think it took around 7-8 minutes. There were small differences to most of the larger faces in the image but many appeared completely unchanged.

Original
Cloaked

The input files were all jpegs, but the output files are png, and have roughly five times the file size in bytes. They had also lost their various keywords and presumably other metadata. The files went back to a similar size to the originals when saved from Photoshop as jpg at an appropriate quality level, and it is these I’ve used here. Saving as jpg perhaps very slightly diminishes the differences.

I have of course no way of knowing whether the ‘cloaked’ files would – as the inventors say their trials show – provide at or near 100% protection “against state of the art facial recognition models from Microsoft Azure, Amazon Rekognition, and Face++”, but can only accept their assurances – and presumably their paper gives more details on their testing.

Fawkes is at the moment more a demonstration of concept rather than usable software, and you would have to be very concerned about your on-line privacy to treat pictures with it. But it does show that there are technical ways to fight back against the increasing abuse of personal data and its commercial exploitation by corporations.

Recently we’ve seen complaints being made by protesters about photographers putting their pictures online, with some arguing that their permission is needed or that they should be pixellated. While photographers rightly argue their right to photograph and publish public behaviour as a matter of freedom of speech – and the idea of claiming privacy seems to negate the whole idea of protest, I can see no objection to minor alterations in images which retain the essential image while frustrating AI-assisted data acquisition. It would I think be rather nice if Adobe could incorporate similar technology as an optional ‘privacy mode’.

Images used above are from My London Diary No War With Iran protest on 4th Jan 2020 opposite Downing St.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Showing faces II

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

For a rather wider discussion of the issues involved in photographing protests and showing the faces of those taking part, you may like to read On Ethics, The First Amendment, and Photographing Protestors’ Faces by Allen Murabayashi.

It is of course in some respects a very US-centric article, talking about Trump and about the constitution. But I think it makes some of the reasons for the disagreements over the issue clear, and is worth reading.

Murabayashi gives his own opinion in two short paragraphs as the end of the piece:

To me, the real discussion shouldn’t be about the blurring or obscuring of faces, nor gaining consent of a subject. These are tactical choices, and in the U.S. there is simply no expectation of privacy in a public setting.

Instead, we ought to continue to consider how photography is used to portray others (particularly the vulnerable), and whether an image truly advances a story or simply acts as a signifier for the photo we should have taken.

Op cit

The link in the last sentence is to another piece by Murabayashi, The Photographic Phases of Depicting COVID-19, which is also an interesting read.


April Source

Monday, April 27th, 2020

If you are short of reading material for the remaining few days of April, you may find the Winter 2018 issue of Souce, available online until the end of this month, of interest.

Source, subtitled Thinking Through Photography, is a magazine published in Belfast by Photo Works North in cooperation with the Gallery of Photography. The issue which takes a look at privacy as it relates to photography is only available free to view on line until the end of April 2020, though of course subscriptions are available and give access to the current issue as well as a number of back issues including this.

Here’s a little from the magazine introduction to the issue:

“Culturally, our attitude to photographs seems to encompass our contradictory feelings about privacy today. We are increasingly intolerant of being photographed in public but ever more willing to expose ourselves in photographs online. This has political, societal and legal consequences that are explored in our interview with Camille Simon, a picture editor of the French news magazine L’Obs, and Laura Cunningham’s article on the evolving law of privacy.”

https://reader.exacteditions.com/issues/86924/page/1

This edition is available in full online and you can see the first few pages of the current issue which includes a feature on the Art Council’s photography collecting without subscribing.

Source has been published since 1992 and is described as a “a quality quarterly magazine that provides readers with a critical discussion of photographic practice and an appreciation of the importance of photography in the wider culture.”

Photographers recently featured in Source include: Victor Burgin, Hannah Collins, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Sarah Dobai, Richard Gilligan, Emma Hart, Anthony Haughey, John Hilliard, Karen Knorr, Sirkka-Liisa Knottinen, Hew Locke, Mari Mahr, Trish Morrissey, Suzanne Mooney, Wendy McMurdo, Mark Neville, Roger Palmer, Steven Pippin, Paul Seawright, Simon Starling, John Stezaker, Jane and Louise Wilson and Donovan Wylie.

https://shop.exacteditions.com/source

The page cited also includes a similarly long list of writers. It isn’t quite my photographic cup of tea but may appeal to some readers of this post. Again this was mentioned on the British photographic history blog.

Big money

Sunday, November 17th, 2019

Blogger and photojournalist Avi Adelman has just hit the jackpot in the US with a settlement from Dallas Area Rapid Transit system (DART) of $345,000 for his wrongful arrest for criminal trespass when he photographed a person on the ground being treated by paramedics for an overdose at Rosa Parks Plaza, in public in a public place which is DART property. After the arrest he was detained for a day, but a week later the charge was dropped and after an investigation the arresting officer was later disciplined.

You can read the story on Petapixel at Photographer Wins $345K Settlement Over Unlawful Arrest While Taking Pictures.

The arresting officer took action because she beleived that Adelman taking pictures was in breach of the medical privacy law established in the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). But as Adelman says, “The subjective personal opinions of LEO personnel should never be allowed to interfere with lawful and protected First Amendment activities.

The article states that Adelman considers this settlement “a major win for photojournalists everywhere”, but I think he only means photographers anywhere in the United States. Here we don’t have a written constitution to have a “First Amendment”, and certainly any settlement that might have been reached in the UK over such a case would have been for only a fraction of the amount DART paid.

I don’t think either that there was any great public interest in the pictures that Adelman was taking, and probably police and others here would have attempted to protect the privacy of the unfortunate person being photographed. Unless it was someone in the public eye or the police or paramedics were clearly abusing someone I don’t think I would have wanted to take pictures of this incident in any case.

However taking such pictures would probably also have been legal here, as it was a public event taking place in an area open to the public where there could be no real expectation of privacy. Here it’s more a matter of decency than legality. But some other countries attach more importance to personal privacy and photographers who photograph such events could find themselves paying out rather than raking it in.