You’re being watched…

grease bath

That’s not the exit light.

I was at the AMC Cinema in the old Forum on Saturday night (screening room 5). Waiting for the movie to start, I passed the time by playing with my new camera. I noticed, when I pointed it towards the screen, that I could see — on the LCD screen — a light on the wall just to the right of the screen. Oddly, when I looked with my naked eye, I saw no such light.

I checked a few times to make sure it wasn’t one of the lights that run down the side wall, but no, there was very definitely a bright spot on the front wall that the camera could plainly see, but my eye could not. So I zoomed in all the way (even using the ghastly “digital zoom”). I saw a strange looking rectangular bug-eye thing that was definitely no exit sign.

So what the heck is it? I surmised that it must be some kind of infra-red light that the cinema uses to illuminate the room, so they can watch over us in the dark using some kind of infra-red viewer. I suppose they need to know if someone is getting naked, or if thieves are nabbing purses, or whatever.

grease bath

Yo! Paranoia!

After the movie I walked down to the front of the room, and sure enough, there’s a panel up there, about the size of a shoebox, with a red lens over it and some kind of bulbs behind the lens. There’s another one on the left side of the screen.

So you’d better watch out or that hanky-panky you get up to in the back row might end up all over the Internet. Cinema spy cam!

Follow-up! An alert commenter (Rosco) has identified the device in question as an infrared “assisted listening device” for the hearing impaired. Not unlike this one. Mystery solved!

20 thoughts on “You’re being watched…

  1. CCDs are actually very infrared sensitive – it was seeing something you couldn’t. Usually, they place some sort of IR filter in front of the ones used for visible-light photography but maybe yours isn’t equipped with one. Have you noticed any sort of weird brightness effects or halos when photographing flames or physically hot objects?

  2. Google “IR spotlight” or “IR floodlight”.

    I don’t know whether I should be nervous or thankful that AMC is spying on me or ensuring my safety without disturbing me. They could at least post a sign somewhere to let us know we’re being watched.

  3. Oh man, that’s fucking frightening. Don’t they have to declare that they’re pulling that shit?

  4. I don’t think there is any legal reason to declare it since a darkened cinema is considered to be a “public place”. They would probably have to declare it if it were a bathroom or a locker room where you would potentially be getting naked legitimately.

    Back around 1997 the gym at La Cité installed video cameras in the men’s locker room. At that time, most people were blissfully unaware of things like web cams and voyeur web sites. I quit the club soon afterwards. I didn’t hear a single peep of complaints about it. (Of course the cameras were only in the men’s locker room, not the women’s.)

  5. I think the law doesn’t control the presence of cameras (except in bathrooms, maybe) but it deals with the recording of the images taken by those cameras.

    Radio-Canada did a story on the subject recently:

    En 1992, la Commission des droits de la personne et la Commission de l’accès à l’information ont interdit aux municipalités du Québec d’enregistrer les images, afin de protéger le droit à la vie privée. Les préposés ne peuvent enregistrer que lorsqu’ils remarquent quelque chose d’anormal. Laurent Bilodeau est enquêteur à la Commission d’accès à l’information : « Enregistrer est considéré comme l’équivalent d’une fouille ou une perquisition. Si une municipalité possède des caméras et enregistre des images, elle détient des renseignements sur des personnes. Des renseignements personnels. Pour cette raison, la loi impose des limites »

  6. Interesting. Most likely the cinema doesn’t record, or they record on a loop which soon gets erased. There’s no advantage to them to keep stacks and stacks of recorded tape. However, they could use it to monitor the room via live CCT.

  7. It’s gotta be an infrared light, Mikel. I Googled “IR Floodlight” like Marc suggested and found pictures of infrafred floodlights that have the same kind of lenses. The only unanswered question is “are they recording or simply monitoring?”

    …aside from the question of whether or not they should inform us that we’re being peeped at.

  8. Yeah, I took a look but only saw smaller models so I still wonder if it’s an infrared light or a light and CCD camera or what.

    I wonder what AMC would say about it? Maybe they need a phone call.

  9. I would say with 99% certainty that it’s infrared. There would be no point in a regular light being there — they couldn’t turn it on during a movie. Besides, this light was definitely ON yet could not be seen with the naked eye.

    For example, look at this infrared light from a catalog, and compare it (with all those lenses) with the one I photographed.

  10. Those small points of light recorded by your digital camera aren’t lenses; those are arrays of individual LEDs emitting IR.

    LEDs have come a long way since those alarm clocks with dim, red displays from just a few years ago. For example, new traffic lights, pedestrian crossing lights, and the parking lights on many new cars use arrays of LEDs.

  11. Thanks Marc. I knew they were LCDs, but technically speaking, there is a lens of sorts on each diode. Sort of… Kind off… ;-)

  12. I agree. I’m not so concerned that they are doing it, but I do — strongly — object to their doing it without telling us.

  13. It’s an infrared assisted-listening system for those with hearing problems.

    For more fun at home, grab your tv remote, press a button, and look at it through your digicam’s lcd!

  14. Now that makes sense. It’s the same sort of scheme
    as used in infrared wireless speakers or headphones.
    The IR LEDs are fed with signal in the subaudible
    range, and that signal is frequency modulated (just
    like the FM broadcast band). There are receivers
    that have photodiodes that translate the IR signal
    back into a subaudible signal, and then there is
    a demodulator to recover the original modulating
    signal. Many people who have a hearing loss
    have the receivers, because they have smaller
    versions of the transmitters hooked up to
    their tv sets or other audio sources. So
    for the cost of the IR transmitter, the movie
    theatre can cater to those with a hearing loss.
    Some years back, I remember theatres like the Palace
    were transmitting the movie soundtracks on low
    power FM transmitters, so anyone with a portable
    radio could pick up the signal. But that tends to
    be messy. Actually, I thought the Fringe could
    scrounge up a grant and get one or more of the
    transmitters, and then they’d open up some of
    the performances to an untapped audience.
    It would certainly work with solo performances.


  15. Wow! Never heard of these IR floodlights…

    Gang, you do know there are security cameras absolutely everywhere downtown eh? And they DO tape and record (even if it’s on a loop…) and they do NOT advertise or otherwise inform us of their presence…

    Next time you are walking down Ste-Catherine, look up and around.. see how many you spot. Every department store, shopping mall, restaurant, depanneur.

    Also, google for “Steve Mann sousveillance”. A favorite is this:

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