The Surveillance Camera Players

What separates humans from other animals? Think it through long enough, and you'll realise it's skateboarding. Seen a monkey kickflip down a flight of stairs? Or a cow whip out a stylin 7-11 carpark backside tail slide? We're in fact so special, that some of us like to watch each other round the clock, skating or not.

This voyeuristic pleasure can be so intense within some of us, it can fuel a crazy boundless lust for all manner of spying devices. It can turn the most amiable of folk into control freaks who must see your every move. It can smother entire cities with deadly swarms of surveillance cameras, and leave entire populations nervously anticipating a tap on the shoulder from big brother - any minute now.

Why is it that the only species that skates has this fixation? I don't know, but really - if spying's your game - ya gotta get into data, sunshine. Try for starters, Echelon being the code name for the international telecommunications surveillance project that is carried out by the UK-USA alliance. And if the data spying gets a bit messy, will help you "master self-defence against privacy-invading marketing" by trying to block telemarketing calls, junk e-mail and junk mail.

How would you feel about having spy cameras on you? Well hell, you do. What do you think about it? Is the current level of surveillance in the city a barbaric invasion of privacy or a goody-two-shoes safety measure?

The Surveillance Camera Players from New York channel their distaste for public spy cameras creatively, by organising theatre performances staged in front of cameras to draw attention to them, and perhaps engage the security people watching. Jean Poole swapped data with Bill Brown of the S.C.P.

Q. Why do you dislike surveillance?

A. It's a violation of my constitutionally protected rights to privacy.

Q. What do you like about surveillance?

A. Absolutely nothing.

Q. How did / what motivated - you to start your group?

A. Brilliant manifesto by a friend at the time called Guerilla Programming of Video Surveillance Equipment. He'd been handing it out; I decided to perform it.

Q. How many people are involved, where are you based - and do you have affiliates elsewhere?

A. Core group half a dozen people at any one time. Total of 35 people have performed since founding. Based in NYC though we have strong contacts in London, Paris and several cities in Germany.

Q. What do you think of privacy in 2001?

A. Extremely important topic, cf, "Data Protection Act" in the UK/European Union.

Q. What do you think of the echelon project?

A. I'm sure it actually exists. Its significance is its speed: 1 GPS supposedly. This answers an important objection to my critique of surveillance, which is that the cops don't have time to review all the tapes. True, but an Echelon-like machine DOES.

Q. What type of responses have you had from the people watching your performances on camera?

A. Depends on the play: if it satirises someone other than them personally, they think it's funny. If it satirises them, they are upset. Interesting dichotomy.

Q. What about people on the street watching?

A. Overwhelming majority are upset when we show them the maps of how many cameras there are. Concretises the experience for them. Some think they should be taken down; all want them properly labelled.

Q. What do you think of satellite imaging technology?

A. Digital Angels: transponders in the skin, tracked by satellites, info displayed on-line. Truly evil.

Q. Have you considered any performances to bring attention to these technologies?

A. Yes, still don't know what to do about Echelon/satellites. Have made preparations but no performance yet.

Q. What do you think of personal webcams and people who make their private sides public?

A. Exhibitionists are among the most boring people I've ever met.

Q. Have you done any webcam performances? ( planning to?)

A. A bunch. We use a webcam mounted in public (Times Square, New York) when we want to reach an international audience and to call attention to the nefarious/voyeuristic aspect of webcams in public places.

Q. I've heard of some hacks to surveillance camera feeds that go to private online addresses. Have you had anything to do with that?

A. No.

Q. If there's a little voyeurism in all of us - what do you like to watch?

A. My cats jumping around.

Q. 3 urls that've inspired you?

A., and (of course!)

By Jean Poole. Originally published in 3D magazine, Sydney's free electronic music street paper, January 2001, and reprinted by Octapod.

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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