In the post-Sept. 11 rush for "homeland security," should authorities be allowed to install surveillance cameras on every building and street corner as a defense against terrorism?
In a word, no. That's the level-headed assessment from the Surveillance Camera Players, a New York City-based activist group which condemns use of the cameras. Members perform agit-prop "skits" in front of closed-circuit television (CCTV) monitors and host public walking tours to reveal camera locations in New York.
In a recent website posting, the Players say there were so many surveillance cameras in operation in the World Trade Center area that their locations couldn't possibly be counted or mapped out. The group argues that despite this saturation of surveillance, none of the cameras did what they were supposed to do: anticipate or prevent another attack following the 1993 WTC bombing, provide security, or keep thousands of people safe from harm.
"Surveillance cameras did not and will never prevent a major crime or terrorist attack," says a lengthy SCP manifesto entitled Nothing Has Changed. "It is clear to us that the problems -- of crime, of terrorism -- must be solved in other ways."
Since Sept. 11 the Surveillance Camera Players' anti-CCTV position has fueled electronic hate mail from flag-waving zealots far and wide (posted at www.surveillancecameraplayers.org). The guerrilla TV-programming group emulates the traditional structure of TV, with production-ready scripts and "stage your own show" tips posted on its site. The group calculates that each of its silent productions costs roughly $30 to produce (for pens, poster boards, etc.).
From a page on its website[,] users are able to print out "You Are Being Watched" posters that warn pedestrians of otherwise hidden CCTV cameras in operation.
Since the founding of NYSCP in 1996, similar activist groups have emerged in Arizona, San Francisco, Lithuania and other places. Vancouver has no official equivalent -- not yet, anyway.
Elsewhere on the internet, visitors to www.appliedautonomy.com can navigate a path of least surveillance through New York City's CCTV-dotted streets (at least 2,397 visible cameras in Manhattan alone).
Anti-CCTV forces converged during the Sept. 7 International Day of Action Against Video Surveillance. The event featured stunts such as the performance of "Trash Surveillance" out of portable bins wheeled around Hockley, England, and the installation of fake cameras (made of paper and cardboard) in key locations to "prepare" Berliners for the real thing.
[Written by Tom Zillich and published in the 17-23 January 2002 issue of The West-Ender.]
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