This morning I had the deeply unpleasant experience of watching a probable “creepshotter” in action — a person harassing others by furtively taking photographs of them in public. Whether done out of predation or bullying (in the latter case giving us things like the “People of Walmart” website), this is a class of malefactor enabled entirely by very recent advances in portable computing technology, a slimy limpet clinging to the underside of the progress that gives us so many wonderful things. I found today’s uninvited and up-close reminder of this dark side quite unsettling.

On returning home, I discussed the incident with friends on Twitter and in a chat room. I felt ashamed that I didn’t confront him directly, especially since at least one other person present, a young woman seated nearby, clearly and visibly felt threatened by his behavior. As it took place in a local coffee house, my friends advised that the better course of action would have involved seeking intercession from staff, rather than rolling straight up to this dude myself.

Since I’d taken notice of this particular guy on prior visits to this establishment (though hadn’t previously seen him do anything so dreadful), I resolved to write an email to its managers. I am pleased to report that they responded quickly and thoughtfully, making me feel confident that I did the right thing.

I share a sanitized version of the letter I wrote below, in the interest of promoting community vigilance against those would would misuse technology like this.

I want to report my concern about a creepy guy I witnessed harassing other customers this morning (Wednesday Feb 19, 2014). I’ve seen him hanging around the cafe before; he looks like [description redacted]. He has an attitude I would describe as “squirrelly”; he’s stuck out to me in the past because of it. I have only ever seen him sitting or walking around by himself.

This morning I observed him seated in one of the back corners of the coffee house, to the left of the board-game cabinet. He had at least a couple of cellphones in his possession, and seemed to be using them to take photographs of other customers; he would hold the phones up in front of himself and hit buttons, whereupon they’d emit various sound effects, including a camera-shutter noise at least a couple of times. (He was sitting in such a way that, my own suspicions aroused, I couldn’t peek at his screen.)

This made at least one other customer in his line of sight visibly uncomfortable; she tried to construct a privacy-screen against him by standing up a paper-folder at her table and slouching down behind it.

I considered confronting him, but while working up the nerve he used one of the phones to place a call, proceeding to speak with someone about (from what I could overhear) GPS-tagging digital photographs, while he paced around the length of the coffee house. Unnerved, I left while he was still talking.

In hindsight I wish that I’d mentioned his behavior to staff in person, but after speaking to some friends about the incident I write this email. Thanks for your time and understanding, and for keeping [name of establishment redacted] a safe and awesome place.

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