Watching the Watchers

Being watched is a concern to Bill Brown, who earns his money as a proofreader but has earned his local fame as the leader of New York's Surveillance Camera Players. Inspired by a 1998 New York Civil Liberties Union project that created a map of all surveillance cameras visible from the street,[1] he personally maps camera locations in many Manhattan neighborhoods, available [at]

He leads walking tours following these maps and crafts periodic, purposefully ironic demonstrations[2] in front of selected cameras, most recently [19-20 March 2006] in front of a Times Square electronics shop.[3] The event was part of what he and several other activists worldwide dubbed International Day Against Video Surveillance, timed to coincide with the first day of spring.

Far from a Luddite -- he carries around a wireless outfitted laptop and cellular phone[4] -- Brown says that he believes that the influx of cameras and other surveillance technology like spy planes violates his[5] right to privacy, which the Supreme Court has ruled to be inherent in the Constitution.

"Everyone is doing something wrong that is something they do not (want)[6] taped and retained," Brown argued via email.

(Written by Edward-Issac Dovere, and published as an error-riddled sidebar to a longer article entitled "You're Being Watched," in Our Town, 23 March 2006. Corrections made by Bill Brown.)

[1] Though Bill greatly appreciates and has certainly been helped by the NYCLU's November 1998 mapping project, he (and several others) started the Surveillance Camera Players two years before it was undertaken, that is, in November 1996.

[2] The Surveillance Camera Players do not put on "demonstrations," which implies something on a mass scale, i.e., large numbers of people "demonstrate": the SCP writes plays and stages small-scale performances.

[3] The only reason the Surveillance Camera Players performed in that particular location was the presence of a continuously operating webcam. The electronics shop has nothing to do with anything, neither the webcam nor the performance in front of it.

[4] Bill Brown does not own or carry around a cellular phone, and the laptop he uses is loaned to him by his employer.

[5] Very bad phrasing here: not everyone's right to privacy, but Bill Brown's right to privacy. Bill Brown fights for Bill Brown's rights. This is obviously absurd: the Supreme Court didn't rule on Bill Brown's personal right to privacy in Katz v. the United States (1967). Furthermore, everyone's right to privacy was not found to be "inherent in the Constitution": it is explicitly stated in the 4th and 5th Amendments.

[6] This parenthetical insertion was made by the author. But it certainly does not make the quote attributed to Bill Brown read well or any better. And yet Bill Brown is known for his succinct, quotable, "sound bite" friendly answers. This suggests that the author didn't work hard enough to present the quotation in an appropriate grammatical framework.

Contact the New York Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail

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