Ben Werdmüller

At a demonstration against surveillance, why film all of our faces?

Reading time: 2 minutes

I've just come back from the Day We Fight Back protest, which was held outside the AT&T office where Mark Klein revealed a secret room where the NSA was intercepting communications. Mark himself came out to speak, and it was wonderful to see so many people coming out on the streets of San Francisco to protest against unconstitutional surveillance.

There was one thing that I thought was a bit of a sour note. This protest, fundamentally, is about privacy. While I can understand the importance of photodocumenting the event in order to raise awareness and demonstrate support - I took quite a few myself - there was a point where, I think, this crossed the line into unnecessary intrusion. Unfortunately, it was done in the name of Aaron Swartz.

We were encouraged to all stand in a circle, so we could observe a minute's silence in his name. That's great. I was less impressed that we were expressly instructed to form the circle so that nobody was overlapping anybody else. And then horrified when two sets of cameramen went around the circle and filmed every single one of our faces.

This was a brilliant event, created for an important purpose. Surveillance and civil liberties are the key issue of our age, and we must fight to create the society we want to live in. But, while nobody has any legal expectation of privacy in a public space, and while documenting these protests is important, I feel like this kind of recording sends the wrong message.

For transparency's sake, I'd like to know who the cameramen were. But more to the point, I'd urge anyone holding a protest against rampant surveillance to think twice about engaging in this sort of activity themselves.

Nonetheless, this was an important event. At the time of writing, 82,448 calls have been made to congressional representatives supporting legislation that will severely limit surveillance powers in a meaningful way. There's a long way to go, and we need to keep fighting for what is right - while questioning everything that is happening around us.

#thedaywefightback