An Open Letter To Robert Flowers, Director

Utah Olympics Public Safety Command

5 May 2001

Dear Sir:

On 3 May 2001, The Salt Lake Tribune printed an article by Michael Vigh that reported that your office has decided not to employ face recognition software (FRS) at the upcoming Winter Olympics, which will be held in Utah in 2002. According to Vigh's article, your office has decided that the dubious benefits of FRS do not "outweigh the tumult," a reference to the "slew of negative calls" about the surveillance software that the Utah Olympics Public Safety Command (UOPSC) has received in the wake of the disclosure of the fact that FRS was secretly used to photograph and compare against a database of faces every single one of the 71,000 people who attended the January 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida. Vigh quotes Department of Public Safety Captain Stuart Smith, the deputy coordinator of UOPSC, as saying, "It's a big political ugly to use that [FRS]," and "People feel this [the 2002 Winter Olympics] is a sporting event and not a national security event." You yourself are quoted as saying that "I'm not so sure Utahns would stand for something like that," that is, to the use of FRS at sporting events, to the blurring of the all-important line between civilian life and military imperatives.

We, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP), commend you -- and the National Basketball Association, which made a similar announcement back in February 2001 -- for your courageous, precedent-setting decision!

Ever since October 2000, when we performed outside of the New Jersey offices of Visionics, Inc. (one of the biggest makers of FRS), the SCP has tried to alert the general public to the dangers that this surveillance software poses to our basic civil liberties (especially the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution). We have tried to call attention to the facts that there are already 1.1 billion faces stored in the world's various computerized databanks, and that this number is liable to grow very quickly if action isn't taken soon.

Despite the brief flurry of news reports concerning FRS that were published in the wake of the "Snooper Bowl," we have found that the general public still isn't very well informed on the subject of FRS, and so cannot make an informed decision concerning its use in public places. Thanks to your courageous decision, the subject of FRS is back in the news; hopefully, your decision will lead to greater scrutiny of the "security measures" that are used in the name of "public safety" and to greater awareness of the importance of defending our precious, constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy.

Hopefully, your decision will also encourage American law enforcement authorities and companies such as Earthcam -- which operates a series of "webcams" (Internet video cameras) in public places -- to announce that they, too, will respect the public's right to privacy and will declare publicly that they will never install FRS.

Sincerely, the Surveillance Camera Players (New York).

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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