Spiegel TV

In early July 2001, the New York Surveillance Camera Players (SCP-New York) were contacted by Spiegel TV, the television counterpart of the German news magazine Der Spiegel, which had published an article on the SCP-New York in its 3 July 2001 issue. (In case you are wondering, der spiegel means "the mirror" in German.) On their way to Tampa Bay, Florida, where they were scheduled to interview the local police department about its controversial use of face recognition software on public surveillance cameras, the folks in the Spiegel TV crew wanted to include the SCP-New York in their report. Encouraged by the fact that the group remains interesting to people in Germany, and eager to talk about the dangers posed to privacy rights by the software, the SCP-New York gladly accepted the invitation and performed You are being watched for your own safety -- expanded to include a denunciation of face recognition software -- for the Spiegel TV crew in several different locations in Times Square.

Times Square was chosen because it is easily identified by European TV viewers, because it looks good both in daylight and at night, and so can serve as an all-purpose staging area for a TV crew with little time to spend in New York City, and because the SCP-New York has long contended that it would be among the very first areas in New York City to be surveilled by cameras "enhanced" by face recognition software. It may turn out that the SCP-New York has been right: in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 disaster at the World Trade Center, ex-NYPD police chief Howard Safir has proposed that 100 new cameras (all of them "enhanced" by face recognition software) should be installed in Times Times as a precaution against terrorist attacks.

In any event, the seven-minute-long piece that Spiegel TV aired on 15 July 2001 was mostly devoted to Bill Todd, Chief of the Tampa Bay Police Department. Standing in front of rows and rows of TV monitors, Todd explains the workings of the "FaceIt" computer program (developed by Visionics, Inc.) and -- despite the fact that the computer software has been installed on a trial basis -- argues that its effectiveness as a crime-fighting tool has already been demonstrated. In an unintentionally very significant scene, Todd takes a group of folders out of a file cabinet, opens them up and pages through their contents while he speaks to the Spiegel reporter about watch-lists of dangerous criminals, without realizing (or caring) that the camera can clearly see the faces of several people whose photographs are in the files. And so, the man who is required by the U.S. Constitution to respect people's privacy has violated the privacy of several people, right in front of the viewers' eyes!

Only one minute long, the sub-segment on the SCP-New York is, as one says, a mixed blessing. Though it includes a strongly worded denunciation of face recognition software by the SCP-New York's spokesperson Bill Brown -- who describes the use of the software to "enhance" public surveillance cameras as "fundamentally undemocratic" and points out the irony of the fact that this repressive tool has been produced by an ostensibly democratic society, and not by a police state such as Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia -- the sub-segment identifies Bill as an "anti-camera activist" and fails to mention the New York Surveillance Camera Players. Not only does this omission deprive the show's viewers of the opportunity to find out more about this activist, but it also suggests that Bill acts alone, when the performance recorded by Spiegel TV clearly shows that several people are involved.

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