It is a known fact that Americans, as a whole, enjoy their privacy and personal space. We enjoy it so much, in fact, that we create barriers to assure we get it. Look at our homes: most of us have doors, or at the very least, doorways, leading to every room. We can block off the doorways, or close and lock doors, to escape a nagging spouse, a needy pet or a screaming child to help regain our sanity, if only for a few minutes. For us, there has always been this reasonable expectation, if not basic need, to have privacy. But as technology evolves, those once presumed safe havens for privacy are starting to be threatened.
One of the bigger threats to privacy has been the evolution of the camera. In the 1980s, two basic types of consumer cameras existed. One captured video while the other captured still images. Each evolved independently, and each has the potential to threaten your privacy in its own unique way. Today, I want to focus solely on the latter; however, I may revisit the former at a future date.
The 1980's still camera was based on products that needed to be purchased in order to operate it. Excluding the Polaroid, which placed the image directly onto photo paper and was processed within the confines of the camera, and a few other camera types, such as a pinhole camera, all still photography required the use of film. The image seen through the viewfinder was inverted inside the camera and placed onto a piece of film via light through the aperture, creating a negative image. When all pictures were taken, the film was processed with chemicals to make a negative strip. Each negative then required an enlarger to invert the image to its intended orientation and enlarge it to the desired size onto a piece of photo paper. The paper was then processed with chemicals to produce your printed image. All of this made photography time consuming and costly to maintain.
In the 1990s, when digital cameras started to replace film, everything changed. Anyone with an extra few hundred dollars could purchase a new digital camera. With it came the availability of instant image files you could store on a disk or computer, good zoom capabilities, and the capacity for autofocus. Photography became cheap and easy, and it began appealing to a wider audience. With anything gaining popularity, someone always wants to make it better.
Before long, new cameras functions were being developed. Cameras began coming out with infrared and full spectrum capabilities, which have now become easily obtainable for the right price. But the technological research of cameras has not stopped there, and it's the new research currently being developed that is disconcerting.
The terahertz band, or T-Band, is a range of electromagnetic waves that fall between Infrared and Microwave. Astronomers have been using it for years to study the universe, but until recently it has not been cost efficient enough for everyday application. That is beginning to change. Multiple technology companies are beginning to experiment with combining T-Band sensors with CMOS. CMOS, or complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor, is a common technology found in many electronics, including cell phones and cameras.
Combining the two technologies will make it possible to create a type of compact imager that can see through clothing and walls. While the technology companies developing these advancements each claim that the resulting product(s) will have a fairly limited range of vision, how long will it take for an intelligent kid to bypass the distance protocols?
I have seen twelve year olds do things with computers I have never dreamed possible, and once one figures out how to increase distance capabilities in these new cameras it will spread like wildfire. Imagine having an intimate moment with your spouse while your fifteen year old neighbor is spying on you from the safety of their bedroom. Closing the blinds will no longer be applicable. So what are you to do?
Metal, it seems, is the answer. The T-Band cannot penetrate it. But should we be forced to line our residences with metal to protect ourselves from prying eyes? We may have no other choice. But what about public restrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms? Will companies pay out the expense for your privacy? Without government mandates, it is anyone’s guess.
While mass production of this particular technology is still years away, I can't help but be concerned with the current path. As technological advances are made, it is no longer safe to assume those technologies will be used solely for their intended purpose. Somewhere, in a world with more than seven billion people, someone will use new technologies for nefarious activities. Where one treads, others will follow.
Technological advances will always be made. It is in our nature to evolve. But in the future, unless we begin regulating new technologies, privacy may become unobtainable to anyone who cannot afford it. Savor your moments of privacy; you may not get many more.
James Edwards is currently working in several industries. He is involved in the Private Security industry with more than ten years of experience in the field. He is the President and CEO of Hued Images, LLC, a small photography service based in St. Louis, Missouri. He also writes and designs IOS applications in his free time.
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