As university students, we use our digital devices such as laptops everyday. Busy working, we fail to notice the laptop camera in our faces.
I find it intriguing to explore the insecurity produced by the laptop camera for two reasons: firstly, we come into contact with it everyday but hardly consider its effects; secondly, getting hacked and being watched through the camera transgresses the private sphere that we imagine to inhabit when we supposedly use our laptops in private.
It is no breaking news that hackers can monitor us through the laptop camera, and can go further to blackmail victims. In 2010, two employees from the Lower Merion School District reportedly took pictures of students through school-issued laptops (Whitney 2010). For my part, I clicked on a bad link a few months ago— windows opened and multiple files were downloaded onto my laptop. My paranoia led me to covering my laptop webcam with a washi tape. It did not seem farfetched to imagine my every action watched through my webcam now.
Our laptop cameras are usually used to capture moments and do video calls. Apart from documenting memories, it is a sensing object that can “record an increasing variety of information” (Pietsch 2013: 308). The inbuilt webcam has become a source of unwarranted surveillance in today’s “surveillance age” (Yadron 2016). There is the potential of being watched by anonymous others — the ambiguity of the situation and the plausibility of being blackmailed alleviates the insecurity; this unknowable threat is an element of our sophisticated digital infrastructure.
We live in a risk society (Beck 1992), with the threat of having our personal information exploited unknowingly. This is the effect of modernity, arising from the advent of technology and increasingly complexity of our society. This produces incalculable radical uncertainty that we can no longer thoroughly prepare for. In addition, “open data leads to uncontrollable anarchy” (Pietsch 2013: 310), thus we cannot completely deter the threat because information is in anybody’s hands.
Insecurity is alleviated due to the fact that we have a multitude of cameras around, from our phone cameras to surveillance cameras. Besides cameras, there are other recording technologies such as microphones — there are an abundance of methods to retrieve information. With the recent expansion of the politics of fear, surveillance and control is and a strengthening digital infrastructure, there is nowhere to really hide.
In all, technology opens up unethical realms of privacy invasion. The laptop camera is a social entity that plays an active part in our generation and the reproduction of social insecurity. As the boundary between the digital and physical dissolves (Pietsch 2013), the private and public must be redefined. Being physically in private does not imply privacy and security, as we are continually public in the digital realm. Our modern society suffers from inherent catastrophe and we need to adapt structures to deal with failures and personal insecurities. In the case of the laptop camera, we have to cover them up, or if not, cover ourselves.
1. Beck, U. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. (1st edition). SAGE Publications.
2. Pietsch, W. 2013. Data and Control — a Digital Manifesto. Public Culture 25, 307-310.
3. Whitney, L. 2010. School escapes charges in Webcam spying case. CNET (available on-line: https://www.cnet.com/news/school-escapes-charges-in-webcam-spying-case/, accessed 9 February 2017).
4. Yadron, D. 2016. Why is everyone covering up their laptop cameras?. the Guardian (available on-line: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/06/surveillance-camera-laptop-smartphone-cover-tape, accessed 9 February 2017).