against face recognition software

At 4:30 pm on Saturday 17 November 2001, the New York Surveillance Camera Players (SCP-New York) performed two plays in front of a webcam installed in Times Square by a privacy-insensitive company called Earthcam. Scheduled to coincide with similar protests in Manchester, England, arranged by FANCLUB -- who were among the participants in the 7 September 2001 international day of protest against video surveillance -- the SCP-New York's performances denounced the use of face recognition software to "enhance" the performance of surveillance cameras. A topic of concern to the SCP-New York since October 2000, face recognition software is now being used in several American airports as part of the phony "war on terrorism."

The first play performed by the SCP-New York (Bill, Susan and new-comer Linda) was an updated and slightly abbreviated version of You are being watched for your own safety, which now proclaims NO FACE RECOGNITION SOFTWARE as well as NO MORE INVASIONS OF PRIVACY and NO MORE RACIAL PROFILING. This last phrase was commented upon by one of the employees of the store in front of which the performance took place: an Arab-American, he said that, as a result of the "war on terrorism," he was experiencing more suspicion and outright racism than ever before.

The second play performed by the group was its version of Edgar Allan Poe's Masque of the Red Death, which the SCP-New York had performed only once before. The play requires a minimum of six performers to be successful, and, except for one or two occasions, the maximum number of performers that the SCP-New York is able to bring out at any one time appears to be five. Due to a number of last-minute cancellations, only three performers showed up this time. The group made a game try of putting on the play anyway, but the results were messy. At times, there were too many people out on the street, and the performers found it difficult to get into their positions, stay on their marks, talk to each other, etc. etc. There was no way the dramatic action of the play was clear, and so the whole reason for doing it -- the idea that the figure of the Red Death is an embodiment of or allegory for face recognition software -- was obscured. And yet, by frequently pointing to the camera itself, handing out flyers between plays and talking to the by-standers whenever possible, the group managed to get its message across to dozens of people. (It's not known how many people saw the on-line version, which seems to have looked pretty good.)

The entire proceedings were covered by Gertie Schon, a reporter for German radio; Brooke, a student who wants to do a video documentary on the SCP-New York; and Zoran, a professional who also wants to make such a documentary. Though there were a couple of choice words exchanged between one of the performers and the owner/manager of the store in front of which the performance took place (see the lower left-hand corner of this picture), there were no problems with security guards or police officers.

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NY Surveillance Camera Players