Best of New York: Honorable Mention:

Surveillance Camera Players Tour

Big Brother Meets His Match

It's easy to find someone to take you on a walking tour of Greenwich Village or the Brooklyn Bridge or even Little Odessa out in Brighton Beach. But Bill Brown will take you on a walking tour that comes with a most unusual ingredient: a political agenda.

It's called the Surveillance Camera Outdoor Walking Tour, and its mission is to alert New Yorkers -- and tourists from all over the world -- to the proliferation of police surveillance cameras in public places.

"To my mind, they're violating our basic Fourth Amendment rights -- they're a warrantless search," Brown, 41, told a tour group gathered on lower Broadway by City Hall on a recent weekend afternoon.

As he spoke, he was pointing up at a circular video camera attached to a light pole. During the tour, he would point out 15 others sprinkled around City Hall, which he derisively calls "Fort Giuliani."

Back in 1996, a group called the Surveillance Camera Players started performing skits in front of surveillance cameras in the Union Square subway station, a sort of guerilla-theater protest. Word got around, so last fall the group started offering free tours of places where there are high concentrations of city-owned surveillance cameras -- City Hall, Washington Square Park, Times Square, Fifth Ave. and the United Nations.

"I would like to see these cameras removed entirely," says Brown, a proofreader at an ad agency. "But at the very least, there should be warning signs where there's a camera."

His spiel is peppered with dire-sounding, Orwellian phrases, such as "face-recognition software" and "the death of social life" and "the emerging nightmare." He passes out crude, homemade maps that pinpoint police cameras, including dozens in the Lillian Wald Houses on the FDR Drive.

"This issue is so important," Brown tells his audience outside City Hall, describing himself as "just somebody who's interested in privacy."

It's an interest that has become a passion -- and a way to educate citizens about their city. "People try to tell me there's no privacy left," Brown says, bristling at the idea. "Well, I'm not ready to give it up yet."

[Writen by Bill Morris. Originally published in Show Time, a supplement to the Sunday Daily News, 25 March 2001.]

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail

By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998

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