Big Brother Heads to Washington Square

There are currently cameras hidden everywhere in Washington Square Park. For the past five years, New York Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) has been protesting these hidden eyes by giving tours of heavily surveilled areas in the city.

Bill Brown, a New York Surveillance Camera Player, who can be found on Sunday afternoon passing out maps marked with camera locations and giving free tours, thinks that pedestrians have the right to know they are being watched. The Greenwich Village map spots 231 locations marking cameras with microwave relay antennae owned by the city, businesses or residents.

On a tour around Washington Square Park with Brown, Children's PressLine saw cameras hidden high up in the poles inside a box, which they [the children] had not known were there.

SCP's primary problem with the surveillance cameras is that they violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution by being without public consent. To Brown, it is cruel to not inform people that their privacy is being intruded.

While walking through the park, Officer "Frank" of the NYPD was asked to explain the use of cameras, but he was unable to answer or provide any information. We understand that the NYPD has the right to keep information secret. However, we think that labels or signs should be posted around the park to make people fully aware of this situation.

Brown's role in the SCP is to draw attention and public awareness to the cameras. Besides doing walking tours, the group, formed in November 1996, performs short and silent plays directly in front of these cameras monthly. The "script" from one play instructs the player to hold up a sign in front of the camera that reads: "WE KNOW YOU ARE WATCHING."

"I think it [video surveillance] is a waste of money," Brown said. "They [the police] didn't just put up a couple and stop. They want more and more." He said he would stop only when the cameras are gone.

"To me, it's important that people know the truth," Brown said. Part of the controversy weighs the usefulness of the cameras versus that of the police officers. "With the policeman I know I can go get his help but the surveillance camera can't help me," he said.

While Brown has seen a growing interest in his group, others support the cameras because they lower the crime rate and to increase public safety. The cameras are wired to a graffiti-covered van where policemen monitor televisions. [The] SCP argues there is no evidence that the surveillance camera system prevents crime.

Some people believe that cameras should be taken away; however, during the tour, a man in the park felt safer with cameras in place because policemen made him feel "creepy." "Police judge us on the way what we dress," he said. "They all assume that I'm into doing wrong, which I'm not."

Still, SCP will continue its mission of educating New Yorkers about the city's hidden eyes. Their website lists upcoming tours.

("Children's Pressline," The New York Post, 15 April 2002.)

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NY Surveillance Camera Players