Pull Over, Periscope

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Posted on October 26, 2015, at 6:45 p.m.
by Kristen Ellis.

If you’ve checked your social sites in the last week or two, chances are you’ve heard of a Florida woman who recently drove home drunk and broadcast a live-stream of the entire affair on Periscope, an up-and-coming app owned by Twitter that allows you to “explore the world through the eyes of somebody else.”

We live in an ever-changing world: one where the average person’s right to privacy is often endangered – and sometimes even forfeited – as a consequence of new technologies that blur the lines between private and public experiences.

Twenty-three-year-old Whitney Beall partook in a night of drinking on Oct. 10 that included “at least four drinks at two separate bars,” per ABC Action News. During the broadcast of her poor driving, which lasted more than 40 minutes, Beall admitted multiple times that she was “super drunk” and even made such bold statements as this one: “Hi, everybody in different countries. I really hope if you don’t mind that I drive, because driving in the USA is really important, and I really don’t want a ticket, so I’m going to drive to the area I need to be.” To top it all off, Beall told viewers that she was driving with a flat tire.

Multiple users watching the stream sent comments to Beall urging her to discontinue her dangerous drunken debacle and stop endangering the lives of others and herself, but Beall heeded none of the warnings. After several concerned users alerted 911 of the situation, Lakeland police took action.

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Photo courtesy of Michael Gil (Flickr)

As officers attempted to gather information on the type of vehicle Beall was driving, as well as ask informants for landmarks they might be seeing in the video, the Periscope broadcast feed cut out several times. Luckily, Lakeland PD was still able to apprehend the intoxicated suspect “20 minutes from when the first 911 alert was received.”

Once police finally caught up to her, Beall ran right into a curb without so much as braking, and reports indicate she was highly intoxicated. Though she failed field sobriety tests, Beall refused a breathalyzer. Regardless, she has been charged with a DUI and is awaiting trial.

Interestingly, she plans to plead not guilty, though the video would seem to be evidence of Beall incriminating herself, at one point even saying, “Let’s see if I get a DUI. I don’t think I will, I really don’t.”

Some of the only possible defenses, according to ABC Action News would be that Beall was “acting” and “trying to get attention” in the Periscope video, and also that since she refused a breathalyzer test, the field sobriety test alone could lead to less concrete evidence from the prosecution with a little “wiggle room” for the defense.

What’s most concerning about this entire incident to me, other than the fact that this audacious woman found it entertaining to film herself so dangerously breaking the law, is that she’s raised questions in my mind of where our society’s “digitize everything” phenomenon ends. At what point do we stop pushing the envelope – stop revealing more and more to a cyberspace devoid of real human interaction – and begin reclaiming more of our experiences for ourselves?

Sure, it’s fun to take a snapshot of an exciting experience and post it to share with all of your friends, and, of course, I admit to the personal satisfaction I get from blogging or tweeting about something cool I just saw. It shrinks our borders and allows us to stay in touch with friends across the world, especially those who may have left our physical communities but can still retain their place in our digital ones.

But what does the ever-increasing inclination to share everything do to the right to privacy we are supposed to expect as American citizens? Can people sign in to what is essentially their own personal broadcasting service, record something for all the world to see, and still expect to enjoy the same degree of privacy afforded to us time and time again as a fundamental human right through various court decisions and precedents? I’m not so sure they can.

Installed Periscope to Samsung Note android phone and took some photos. Connect with me at http://jimmakos.com/photography
Photo courtesy of Jim Makos (Flickr)

The way I see it, using apps like Periscope automatically endangers any right to privacy a person hopes to use to defend themselves should an incident take place while being recorded live. Though Periscope and similar applications have numerous beneficial uses and are innovative tools for the professional world and private entities alike, users should realize that when they hit the “Start Broadcast” button, they may be setting themselves up for self-incrimination if anything dicey happens while filming.

When there’s video to prove it, there’s little room for debate on the facts of what happened. Like what is likely to unfold in the case of Whitney Beall, you just might be handing the prosecution the evidence they need on a silver platter. It’s crucial for our generation to understand the potential risks that may arise from using the coolest new apps on the market and to ensure that we adapt to modern technology responsibly.

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