Big Brother may be watching you, but you can let the giant eye in the sky know that you're staring right back. That's the message of the Surveillance Camera Players, a group that protests the video surveillance of public places. The New York group has declared Sept. 7, 2001, the first International Day of Action Against Video Surveillance.
You're already performing for the man behind the curtain, so why not look straight at the camera and thumb your nose? Or, hold up a sign that says, "I know you're in there." So far, groups in Paris, London and Minneapolis, among others, have pledged to take part in the "autonomous actions" to protest video surveillance of public places by the government and businesses. The public awareness about the proliferation of cameras has been growing since Tampa, Fla., implimented a program to scan the streets with face-recognition technology in search of criminals.
The Surveillance Camera Players, started in 1996, see such cameras as a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees protection from unreasonable search and seizures. They've performed skits and plays in front of video cameras as a form of protest, including summarizing Wilhelm Reich's "Mass Psychology of Fascism" in 15 posters. Players in Arizona recently held post-board signs with mottos like "We're watching you watch us" in front of cameras on the street and in bars, and they singled out the infamous jail webcam in the Maricopa County Jail.
"Gekked," an anarchist in the San Francisco Bay Area who will participate in the day of action, is compiling a list of local surveillance cameras, which he plans to photograph and distribute through Indymedia.
"I'm concerned about the concept of function creep. You install a webcam that's supposed to capture people running through a red light, but it captures more -- people walking down the street. All these different cameras have the potential to be tied into one central database."
One victory for the anti-surveillance camp: Borders announced that it would not proceed with plans to use face-recognition technology combined with cameras to search for shoplifters in its London stores.
[By Katharine Mieszkowski. Published in Salon on 28 August 2001.]
Contact the Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail SCP
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998