Bioethics Blogs

Nana Cams: Personal Surveillance Video and Privacy in the Age of Self Embellishment

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

In David Eggers’ novel, The Circle, a fictional internet company creates and encourages users to videostream their lives. Wearing a small camera, people can share every experience of every day with whomever wants to follow them…except to the bathroom. The first streamers become instant celebrities and instant villians. The result is the end of privacy as anyone has known it. The upshot, according to the fictional company, is that if people know they are being watched (or might be being watched), people will behave more civilly. The echoes of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon notwithstanding, at the end of the book the protagonist suddenly wonders if the recording of all lives comes at too high a cost.

Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Maryland, and (soon) Illinois permit residents in nursing homes to record their life. The goal of these “nana cams” is to empower the elderly and their families to record every interaction in order to catch elder abuse and neglect. Elder abuse may affect nearly 10% of seniors.  The Illinois proposal would allow audio and/or video recording if the seniors consent and pay for the equipment. Of course, this move allows responsibility for senior safety to shift away from the public (or care facilities) and onto the shoulders of the seniors. If a senior is abused, it’s his/her fault for not having cameras: Not the state’s for firing all inspectors or not enforcing anti-abuse legislation.

Recordings are not only seen as the answer to problems in nursing homes, but in other areas of life.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.