a history of surveillance in New York City

1955: formation of NYPD's Bureau of Special Services (the "Red Squad"), a secret division tasked with spying on domestic political dissidents.

1965: press reports mention police use of surveillance cameras in public places.

1969: police cameras installed at the Municipal Building, near City Hall.

May 1971: class action lawsuit filed by political activists who allege that the NYPD's "Red Squad" spied upon them.

1972: release of movie called Red Squad, which documents photographic and video surveillance by the NYPD's Bureau of Special Services.

1973: pilot surveillance program in Times Square. Abandonned after 18 months. Only 10 arrests, all for trivial offenses.

1980: NYPD signs the Handschu Consent Decree, which regulates police surveillance of political dissents not accused or suspected of criminal activity and agrees to release contents of its secret files on over 250,000 New Yorkers.

1988: United States Coast Guard installs "Vessel Traffic Service" surveillance system in New York Harbor.

26 February 1993: first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. In the aftermath, various security forces -- the NYPD, the FBI and the CIA -- fill the area with surveillance cameras.

1993: Department of Transportation starts installing red-light surveillance cameras.

1994: Defense Department installs video surveillance system at Giants Stadium (East Rutherford, NJ) in anticipation of the World Cup soccer games.

1996: New York State passes ATM Safety Act, which mandates the installation of video cameras at all banks' Automatic Transfer Machines.

9 October 1996: Mayor Giuliani confirms to The New York Times what Police Commissioner Howard Safir claimed in a TV interview: the NYPD is considering a plan to mount 24-hour surveillance cameras in Manhattan's Central Park, subway stations and other places.

10 December 1996: first performance by the Surveillance Camera Players, whose audience is a police camera in Union Square subway station.

July 1997: police surveillance cameras are installed by the 26th Precinct's VIPER unit at Manhattan's Ulysses S. Grant housing development. In the next few months, VIPER will also be installed at the Albany Houses in Brooklyn and the South Jamaica Houses in Queens.

January 1998: police surveillance cameras are installed by the 6th Precinct (Narcotics Division) in Washington Square Park.

4 February 1998: anti-camera protest in Washington Square Park; 200 people attend.

13 December 1998: New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) publishes the results of its study of public surveillance cameras: there are 2,397 of them in Manhattan.

1999: NYPD cameras installed in Times Square and around City Hall. The NYPD's Techical Assistance Response Unit (TARU) starts using surveillance vans at political demonstrations, parades, and other large gatherings.

May 2000: the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) start mapping camera locations in Manhattan. First area mapped: Times Square. Cameras have almost doubled since NYCLU counted in December 1998.

July 2000: two different news reports claim that the NYPD operates a total of 1,000 cameras in subways, parks and housing developments.

11 September 2001: surveillance cameras installed on or near the World Trade Center fail to either detect, prevent or even record the terrorist attacks that destroyed it.

April 2002: both the NYPD and the Times Square Business Improvement District lie to CNN when they each claim that they don't operate any surveillance cameras in public places.

23 May 2002: the United States Parks Service starts using face recognition software on the computers watching its surveillance cameras at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

September 2002: the Surveillance Camera Players re-map camera locations in Times Square. Cameras have doubled since SCP count in May 2000 and tripled since NYCLU count in December 1998.

11 February 2003: Handschu Consent Decree is substantially modified by original judge (Charles S. Haight) in response to September 2002 filings by the NYPD.

15 February 2003: arrested anti-war protesters forced to answer questions concerning politcal beliefs by the NYPD's "Criminal Intelligence Division," officers of which filled in and submitted "demonstration debriefing forms."

Contact the NY 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

NY Surveillance Camera Players