January 26, 2005 – HP is developing a privacy technology that can jam still and video cameras and blur faces of people who don’t want to have their picture taken. The company developed the idea following a slew of camera phone bans from federal courthouses and gymnasium locker rooms. The company filed a patent application in April 2004. HP hasn’t developed a prototype yet; the patent covers the concept of privacy protection technology.
An HP lab group working from Bristol in the United Kingdom came up with the idea. According to the United States patent application, "Increasing usage of portable camera devices means that the privacy issue of capturing of images of subjects who would prefer not to be photographed has increased. Because portable cameras are small and are likely to be unseen by a subject, persons generally cannot choose to avoid being in the field of view of a small portable camera and are likely to have their pictures taken without their knowledge or consent."
The company sees this technology as the balance between the right to privacy and the right to photograph. The technology will consist of an infrared sensor that sends signals to cameras within range and either shuts them down completely or blurs the face of the person sending the signal. There are several applications and markets for this technology. Celebrities could fend off paparazzi by shutting the cameras down with the electronic impulses. It could also be used in places like locker rooms, courthouses, and other places where taking pictures is inappropriate.
The privacy protection technology may have to overcome a few problems before it’s implementing into the mainstream market. The device wouldn’t be able to shut down all cameras, especially mechanical analog cameras that don’t rely on electronics to function. Also, this technology could be dangerous in the wrong hands; criminals could use it to blur their faces or shut down security cameras. HP has time to think the problems through, as they are in the early stages of the patenting process.