transparent lies

It's been brought to our attention that, when they were asked by the New York bureau of CNN, which is doing a story on us, both the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Times Square Business Improvement District (Times Square BID) denied operating any surveillance cameras in Times Square.

For the last few years, we've been showing what are obviously surveillance cameras operated by the NYPD and the Times Square BID to reporters and people who attend our weekly walking tours of Times Square. And so these denials are tantamount to claims that we are lying or don't know what we are talking about. But we aren't lying and we know exactly what we are talking about. The surveillance cameras we say are police cameras have cables that lead directly into the police station on 43rd Street and the cameras we say are Times Square BID cameras have cables that lead directly to the Times Square BID office between 46th and 47th Streets. Furthermore, it's a matter of public record that the NYPD's Technical Assistance Research Unit uses wireless surveillance cameras on at least one electronic news-gathering van and on several different helicopters.

The NYPD and the Times Square BID could easily have acknowledged the fact that there are "secret," unmarked surveillance cameras installed all over the city -- the NYPD have done so before: in July 2001, a police spokesperson told MSNBC that the NYPD operate approximately 1,000 surveillance cameras in locations all over the city, including Times Square -- and then politely refused to discuss the locations or operational capabilities of any of these cameras on the grounds that the release of such information might somehow jeopardize the "war on terrorism" or even allow terrorists to carry out further attacks. That is to say, the NYPD and the Times Square BID could have used the same cynical "honesty" currently being used so effectively by the federal government and several state governments (including the State of New York) to justify the removal from public libraries, databases and websites of all kinds of relevant information on topics that are embarassing to the government or the corporate sector or likely to cause outrage among the public (e.g., the locations of toxic waste dumps).

But, as we've pointed out elsewhere, the NYPD (and the FBI and the CIA) have something to hide: the surveillance cameras they installed at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the 1993 bombing did absolutely nothing to anticipate, detect, prevent or even lessen the impact of the deadly terrorist attacks that took place on 11 September 2001. And yet both the NYPD and the Times Square BID want to keep operating their video surveillance systems; they both want to install even more cameras. And so they have chosen to tell obvious, transparent lies that prompt questions that clearly aren't going to be answered, such as "If they aren't your cameras, then whose are they?"

The very fact that the NYPD and the Times Square BID have chosen to resort to out-and-out lying is proof positive -- as if any more proof were needed! -- that neither one can be trusted to operate high-powered surveillance cameras in an appropriate or legal manner. That is to say, neither can be trusted to use their cameras without engaging in sexual voyeurism, the satisfaction of personal vendettas or personal rivalries, racial profiling, the harassment of gays and lesbians, or the commercial exploitation of "juicy" surveillance tapes; nor can they be trusted to tell the truth if their officers or employees are ever caught abusing their powers to see without being seen.

And so we renew our call for the removal of all surveillance cameras from all public places. It doesn't matter who operates them: every single one must come down.

-- the New York Surveillance Camera Players, 4 March 2002.

(For information about the NYPD's "Video Interactive Patrol Enhancement Response" (VIPER) units, click here.)

25 November 2002: Please note the following corrections.

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