Cybertraps for the Young: Digital Cameras

It is my pleasure to welcome Frederick Lane to the EIE Blog. Fred is an author, attorney  educational consultant, expert witness, and lecturer who has appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, the BBC, and MSNBC. He has written seven books, including most recently “Cybertraps for the Young” (NTI Uppstream, 2011). All of his books are available on amazon.com or through his website. Fred will be joining us for the next 2 weeks as a guest blogger on the EIE blog sharing excerpts from his book “Cybertraps for the Young.”

Many industries have legitimate reasons to bemoan the rise of digital technology, and photo

processors are near the front of that line. Not so long ago, it seemed as if every shopping

mall was equipped with a drive-up Fotomat kiosk offering one-day film processing. But

Fotomat didn’t survive the rise of one-hour developers in malls and box stores; in turn,

those one-hour shops have largely been replaced by drug-store kiosks—or even inexpensive

home printers—that can produce prints directly from CDs, USB sticks, or memory chips.

The culprit for all this retail change is the digital camera, a device that first became

commercially available only about twenty years ago. As prices have steadily fallen into the

low double digits, digital cameras have become ubiquitous—106 million were shipped in

2009 alone, and that figure was actually down about 12 percent from the 119 million units

sold the previous year (a drop attributed in large part to the growing popularity of mobile

phones equipped with cameras). The attractions of digital cameras are obvious: the ability to

see photos as soon as they’re taken, limited costs for film development, and software that

makes it easy to save images to a computer, digitally manipulate them, and instantly

distribute them via e-mail, a blog, a website, or a social network.

As the Amazon.com catalog illustrates, digital cameras are often the first electronic devices

to be put into small hands. There are a number of benefits to doing so: photography can be

a terrifically rewarding hobby, and, by eliminating the costs of film and film processing,

digital cameras have helped thousands of children discover a new artistic medium, a new way

of looking at the world around them. It’s the very simplicity and ease of digital cameras,

however, that have turned them into increasingly insidious cybertraps. To paraphrase the old

saying: just because a photograph can be taken doesn’t mean it should be taken.

As kids get older and start exploring their sexuality, they all too often employ digital cameras

or mobile-phone cameras as part of that exploration. Few fully understand, however, that

taking nude or semi-nude photographs or video of someone under the age of eighteen (even

a self-portrait) can have serious, even life-altering, consequences. As I’ll discuss in more

detail in Chapter 11, children who have circulated these types of photographs have been

subjected to cyberharassment and cyberbullying laws, have been suspended and/or expelled

from school, have been prosecuted under state and federal law for producing and

distributing child pornography, and, in a few extreme cases, have committed suicide.

To make matters worse, digital cameras are steadily shrinking in size, making it dangerously

easy to take photos or video of someone without their knowledge or consent. In fact, there

are entire websites devoted to illicit candids conspicuously labeled as “upskirt” or

“downblouse.”

Even if the subject of a photo is aware he or she is being photographed, the speed and

simplicity of digital technology reduces inhibitions and makes it less likely that either the

photographer or the subject will consider issues like privacy or propriety. And the younger

the kids on either side of the camera, the less likely it is they’ll think about the long-term

consequences of what they’re doing. After all, there’s no longer any risk for your child that

he or she will feel embarrassed when you pick up that packet of racy photos at the

developer; there’s the illusion that what’s taken with the camera will stay in the camera.

But that sense of privacy truly is an illusion. The whole point of a digital camera, after all, is

that the images can easily be transferred to a computer, thus freeing them for distribution to

the rest of the world. More recent digital cameras skip the transfer process altogether—

they’re equipped with wireless transmitters that allow photographs to be sent directly to email

or social networking sites. In fact, there’s even a memory card, the Eye-Fi, that will

enable older digital cameras to transmit photos wirelessly. Not to mention that any

smartphone equipped with a camera (and most are) is specifically designed to transmit

photos in a variety of ways—as e-mail attachments, as MMS messages, or as direct uploads

to any of hundreds of websites and social networking services.

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