Around noon on Friday 16 February 2001, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) were contacted by the Assignment Editor at UPN, a TV network that broadcasts on Channel 9 in New York City. Aware of the SCP because of a press release the group sent out concerning its October 2000 protest against face recognition software, the Assignment Editor wanted to know if the SCP would like to be featured in a brief segment on surveillance cameras that was being put together. Having never appeared on a local TV news broadcast before, the SCP agreed to work with reporter Stephanie Sheldon. Thereafter, things moved very fast. At 1 pm, telephone contact was made with Ms. Sheldon, who arranged to meet Bill Brown in Times Square that same day, despite the fact that it was raining and cold. At 3:30 pm, the meeting and on-camera interview took place as planned. And at 10:30 pm, the piece, entitled "Hidden Cameras," was aired as promised.
Prefaced by a twenty-second-long introduction, which asks if surveillance cameras are "there" for our protection or as devices to make people "prisoners of a high-tech world," the report was two minutes long. Except for the brief interview with attorney Raoul Felder, who claims that surveillance tapes can be subpoenaed from the police and used in divorce proceedings, and for the one "man on the street" who is asked his opinion, all of the information in it came from Ms. Sheldon's brief conversation with Bill. But this "reporter" wasn't honest enough to identify the source of her information. Instead, she attributed to the NYCLU the idea that there are currently 5,000 surveillance cameras operating in public places in Manhattan, and to "experts" the idea that, in the wake of the security provisions taken by police at the January 2001 Super Bowl, webcams operating in Times Square will soon be outfitted with face recognition software. As Bill told Ms. Sheldon, the NYCLU counted the number of cameras back in 1998, and estimated that there were around 2,400 in Manhattan alone. It was the SCP, on the basis of the maps the group itself has made of places like Times Square, that estimated that there are now five or six thousand cameras in Manhattan. Likewise, it has been the amateurs in the SCP, not the "experts" in the fields of civil rights or high-tech security, who have been warning for over a year that the operators of public webcams are probably sufficiently greedy and insensitive to the privacy rights of ordinary citizens to install face recognition on their cameras and sell on-line access to the images and whatever information is in publicly available databases.
Despite all this, the SCP is quite happy with the UPN News report. Hopefully it will inspire a reporter from another local TV station to ask Earthcam if it does in fact have plans to install face recognition on its webcams.
Contact the Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail SCP@notbored.org
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998