Introduction: Camera Jacket
This design has a small digital camera installed in the lining of a jacket with the lens recording through a small opening in the jacket breast. The camera is operated with buttons wired into the jacket cuff, the camera assembly is held in place with hook and loop fasteners and can easily be detached to allow recharging and media recovery.
The idea originated with the relationship between publicly recording police interactions and the perceived threat presented when a high-profile job is captured and disseminated to be scrutinized by the public. There are more than a few accounts of people recording police actions in public places being detained for their actions. Camera jacket came about as a reaction to these arrests, however this concept can also be used to record many other daily interaction discreetly.
Q: Is recording police actions in your country legal?
A: In Canada, the UK and the US it is completely* legal to video record police officers (provided you do not interfere) while they are executing their duties. That said, there are plenty of cases that justify why this is a controversial topic: sometimes the person recording gets emotionally involved and provokes police, thereby getting detained and having the recording device confiscated; And sometimes police feel threatened and have misunderstood the law and erroneously arrest/confiscate your media. Neither extreme are excusable, but during conflict it's understandable to see why this happens.
Camera jacket investigates the idea that by hiding the recording device you can minimize your impact on police (mis)interpretation of your actions, thereby avoiding possible altercations altogether. There is an argument that by looking like you are recording police events that it will keep them more honest - The counter argument I propose is you want a more authentic interaction from a public servant, and covertly recording doesn't tip your hand.
When filming anything, always keep in mind: "is there a reasonable expectation of privacy?"
This is footage I took of daily observations and a car accident I happened upon:
Here's what I used to make mine:
Ready to challenge the system and covertly film stuff? Let's go!
Step 1: Camera Breakdown
There are no mechanical fasteners on this cheap, plastic camera. The housing was snap-fitted together, so a flat headed screwdriver was easily able to pry open the case and the electronics was removed.
Noting the button configuration on the camera housing I was able to determine the function of the two surface mounted momentary switches on the circuit board. Using a soldering iron, I desoldered both existing camera function buttons (power/photo button and the video record button). Thin-core wire was soldered to the positive and negative terminals on each button location leaving a long lead on each - about 1m (3'). Mini push button switches were soldered to the other end of the wires, corresponding to the buttons on the camera.
To keep the wires organized I wrapped thread around each wire group. This will also help when running the wires down the arm and through the cuff later.
Step 2: Cuff Buttons
I wanted the camera to be operable from the jacket cuff. I left a longer lead on my wires to the buttons to account for flex in the garment so the wires didn't constrict movement. This design has the camera on the left breast with the buttons operated on the left-side cuff by closing your hand.
A small opening was made inside the pocket to install the camera and run the wires. Leaving the camera body in the pocket, the wires and buttons were fed through the opening and down the sleeve. A small incision was made inside the sleeve where the lining terminates at the cuff. The buttons were pulled through this opening and fed though another opening to inside the cuff.
Finally, one last incision is made on the outside of the cuff, near the cuff edge, and in the inside seam so the buttons can be operated without rotating your hand (see picture 2).
Once buttons are aligned, the button leads were bent flat and each button was sewn securely to the cuff.
Step 3: Installing Camera With Hook+loop Fasteners
I had originally planned on using the camera housing, but to reduce bulk when installed the camera housing was removed. The hook and loop fasteners were applied directly to the camera circuit board around the camera lens.
The actual lens of the camera is quite small, around 1mm in diameter. The corresponding opening in the breast of the jacket will be slightly larger. Using self adhesive hook and loop fasteners, I placed the hook side around the lens in a roughly square shape.
After locating the place I wanted my camera lens to view from on the front of the jacket, I made a small opening by poking a bamboo skewer through the heavy fabric. The opening was reamed until the desired width was achieved. Then, with the skewer still inserted, a hobby knife was run along the opening (against the skewer) to trim off excess fabric after reaming. My opening was about 2mm.
On the the inside of the jacket I used loop fasteners around the opening, using the same roughly square pattern I used on the camera. The camera is then fed through the opening in the pocket and affixed to the corresponding fasteners, securing the camera in place with the lens aligned with an unobstructed view through the opening.
Step 4: Closing Thoughts
After the camera has been installed, the small opening in the pocket where the electronics were installed through should be left open to allow for the camera to be periodically removed for media downloading and camera charging.
The freedom to film and photographing in public is something most of us enjoy and usually don't think much about until it is challenged or taken away. Keeping in mind a "reasonable expectation of privacy", it is always the responsibility of the recorder to ensure they are operating within the boundaries of their local law, and this method of recording should not be used to infringe on anyone's right to privacy.
It has been suggested that the Patriot Act, Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act, and UK Terrorism Acts may allow police (and other agents in positions of authority) to challenge what may be recorded in certain situations and places. This is a grey-area - While these acts are good for certain activities, they are not (and should not) be applied to restrict the freedoms we (as law-abiding citizens) enjoy today.
Camera jacket, when used responsibly, is a great tool for covertly recording your public interactions with the world and a method to investigate your recordings at your leisure.
What do you think - should filming police in the course of their duties be outlawed? How would you feel knowing a private citizen was filming you when you were out in public?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below!