In the field one can either plan ahead or, if in the wrong place at the right time, work quickly to document events as they play out. If you have the luxury to plan your shoot you can decide on the most suitable camera for the task and prepare it accordingly. You can also inform those whom you might interview of the implications of their appearance on camera, giving them to choice to consent to being seen or to remain anonymous. But if you don’t, then you have to make do with what you’ve got and be prepared to take actions to minimise the risk to yourself, your sources and your subject(s).

Case Study:

On Sunday 6 of February the minority Ahmadiah sect in Cikeusik, Indonesia, sustained a brutal and fatal attack by some 1500 people carrying bamboo, rocks and machetes1. In spite of the presence of up to 30 armed police officers, the Ahmadia were overwhelmed. The entire attack was captured on video in graphic detail. The uploader, wanting to support the Ahmadi, published the video almost immediately after, however some of the Ahmadiah members captured on camera were subsequently terrorised further. Even so, with so much evidence available and the video screened on national Indonesian television days after the case has languished in the courts and the perpetrators yet to be brought to justice.

In this example the intention to raise awareness encouraged reprisals on those identified on video. In addition, that the video was published at all has not aided in the Ahmadi case, one of many such cases that has lowered public faith in Indonesia’s court system.


This scenario is familiar to many video activists. In many cases, our intention to raise awareness on specific social issues and current events inadvertently results in the further harassment and victimisation of those whose rights have already been violated. This is why awareness on shooting video securely — both for the video activists and the subjects in the video — is important to consider before we start filming videos.

Your Camera can Identify You

Cameras are ubiquitous. In very extreme scenarios, your camera can identify you. If you wish to remain anonymous consider the following conditions and the precautions you can take:

  • Touch screen interfaces, on smart-phones and pads capture traces of not only commonly used features but characters too. A high-contrast photocopy of a touchscreen may yield fingerprints and even passwords. Wipe frequently!

  • Lenses too, if not handled correctly, can reveal fingerprints and unique forms of grime that can identify and / or locate where devices have been. Clean lenses frequently. Wipe with a lens cloth in a circular motion from the centre of the lens out.

  • Meta data on digital camera devices equipped with GPS receivers such as smart phones can locate the geographical location of a shoot. This can be useful when needing to validate what has been recorded, but if can also put people at risk. If risk is an issue ensure location recording is switched off.


On-location Security

If you’re holding a video camera and you’re in a volatile situation you could be a target and so to any one that may be with you. Even journalists, with press passes, are not safe in some conflict zones. It pays to be discrete. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Do you really need to video the events playing out in front of you? It might be just as effective, and less dangerous to record audio. Ensure you have options.

  • The smaller the camera the more discrete you can be.

  • In some situations it might be prudent to have two cameras available. Another person would carry a hidden camera whilst you carry the more obvious one. This way, if one camera is confiscated not only can your team keep shooting, but there exists a record of anything that happens to you.


Visual Anonymity: Think Before You Capture People on Video

Not everyone wants to be recognised on video. As evidenced in the case study, surviving victims sustained reprisals as they were easily identified once the video went online and viral.

  • If you’ve captured a critical event weigh up the implications of getting it online. Will it help or hinder the cause? What can I do to protect the identities of those I’ve filmed? Who have I filmed that has nothing to do with the event, and will their appearance implicate them in the incident?

  • Make the time to think through these issues. If identification is an issue, take the trouble to blur the faces off all those people you feel may be at risk if identified. If in doubt, blur that face out!

  • Remember that a person’s identity can be discovered through association. Meaning, if you try to protect an individual by blurring their images, they can still be identified through the people around her who are not blurred.

  • The development of applications, such as ObscuraCam by The Guardian Project, are particularly useful for people without a background and / or training in video production. That is, individuals who have little knowledge to mitigate the ethics of filming in critical situations and how to prepare videos prior to publishing online. These applications are designed to blur/disguise faces either whilst filming or directly after.


More on Visual Anonymity

The right to free expression sits side-by-side with the right to remain anonymous. However, not all governments value this and many are still debating the pros and cons of a charter of rights that supports anonymity on the internet.

People want to speak out, but not everyone may want to be recognised. The question is, how can we work within such a powerful and visual medium and yet remain anonymous?

Known issues

  • Many citizen journalists are not aware of the potential reach of their work, nor issues of consent. Hence, they are unable to forewarn their subjects, nor seek their consent in using an identifiable image.

  • Multiple devices may cover the same issue putting everyone within view at risk of being identified whether associated with the event or not.

  • Multiple views can, in spite of the risks, ensure a single event may be more positively authenticated.

  • The use of paper-based clearance forms, the practice of one-to-one consent, may not be a feasible tool in remote practice, and certainly not in immediate response situations. They too can pose a security threat by the mere fact of their physical properties.


  1. Rayda, N. Horrific Video Shows Brutality of Attack on Ahmadiah, Jakarta Globe,…^