Security's Eye

$2B surveillance camera industry is growing

By Brian Nearing

The Schenectady Gazette

Sunday 24 October 1999

ALBANY -- Cameras watch as you stroll along First Street in Troy past Russell Sage Collage. They record you as you check out sticker prices at a new car show in the concourse of the Empire State Plaza. They have you under the camera's eye as you commute along Interstate 90.


Surveillance in America, by government, institutions and business, is big and getting bigger all the time. The Capital Region is no exception to the nearly $2 billion nationwide industry of closed-circuit television surveillance equipment, said Sandy Calabrese, an industry analyst and member of the Security Industry Association.

Supporters see public surveillance as a way to protect people by discouraging criminals who know they might be watched, and to help police solve crimes by having a record of the incident.

But others warn that widespread surveillance destroys privacy for everyone, and actually changes the way people behave in public because they never know if someone is watching.

Regardless, the growth of public surveillance is spurred on by new technology that makes cameras smaller and cheaper. More than 60 U.S. cities use networks of closed-circuit television in public places, which doesn't include cameras operated by private businesses like banks, shopping malls, convenience stores and offices.

In Manhattan last summer, volunteers from the New York Civil Liberties Union counted nearly 2,400 visible surveillance cameras, and warned that people are surrendering their privacy every day without even knowing it.


At the Sage Colleges, some expressed concern about Big Brother watching last fall, when indoor and outdoor security cameras were added to the Troy and Albany campuses, said college Public Safety Director Robert Grebert. "But I haven't heard that anymore. People realize they [sic] are a tool to make everyone more safe."


In a recent article in Wired magazine, science fiction writer David Brin [author of The Transparent Society] described a future where surveillance cameras are so prevalent that everyone can watch everyone else, anytime they want. Bosses may be able to spy, but so can workers. No one will be able get away [sic] with anything unnoticed.

But being watched all the time sounds horrible to some, like Bill Brown, a former assistant English professor. In 1996, Brown, upset with the growing number of surveillance cameras in New York City, founded a group called the Surveillance Camera Players to protest.

Standing in front of various surveillance cameras in the city, this loose-knit group stages abbreviated and silent versions of plays like "1984," the George Orwell classic that introduced the idea of a totalitarian state in the form of Big Brother watching all its citizens, as well as "The Raven," "Waiting for Godot," and "Being There."

"Surveillance cameras destroy exactly those things that people such as myself love about N.Y.C.; the fact you can blend in and become anonymous; that you can find a private place even in the middle of a very large and dense city, that N.Y.C. is a place for adults, and surveillance cameras -- in addition to destroying the constitutionally protected rights to privacy -- treat everyone like children," Brown wrote in an e-mail response to a recent request for an interview.

He said the group planned to make its first out-of-New York City foray Saturday in Peekskill, Gov. Pataki's hometown, which recently decided to mount surveillance cameras at a public housing project.


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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