Manhattan Transfer's Webcam

At ten minutes past one o'clock PM (i.e., ten minutes late) on Tuesday 30 November 1999, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) performed SCP Headline News at the busy intersection of Fifth Avenue and 45th Street in Manhattan, that is to say, directly in front of the privately owned "webcam" operated by Manhattan Transfer Electronics (MTE), a video post-production and design studio located at 545 Fifth Avenue. Fairly sharp images captured by this webcam -- which doesn't surveil MTE's offices or entrances, but two blocks of public space -- are uploaded every 30 seconds to MTE's website, thus allowing anyone in the world to surveil Fifth Avenue between 45th and 47th Streets at any time of day or night. (Note that webcams, in the words of View Systems, Inc., "make remote internet video surveillance possible from anywhere in the world.") MTE neither informs nor gets the consent of anyone who is surveilled by this camera, the existence of which is not posted in the street nor on the window on which the camera is mounted. Outside of "hip" self-promotion -- look at the cool scene outside our offices! -- the only reason MTE might have to operate this webcam is that Fifth Avenue is the street upon which many parades take place: the company might be planning to charge for the use of their webcam during parade season (summer).

The SCP chose to call attention to and denounce this webcam on 30 November 1999 because it was the day on which massive protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) were scheduled to -- and did indeed -- take place in Seattle, location of the 1999 Ministerial Meeting of the WTO. The SCP perceive a connection between the existence and policies of the WTO, on the one hand, and webcams such as the one operated by MTE, on the other: both serve the interests of the multinational corporations, and do so at the expense of the best interests of the poor, the working classes, the environment, and the autonomy of democratically elected local, regional and even national governments. The WTO serves global corporate interests by overturning what elsewhere we have termed "opaque" domestic legislation on the grounds that it restricts "free trade"; and webcams serve these interests by providing a technology that allows multinationals the ability to surveill and thus render "transparent" to their eyes the public spaces surrounding their so-called private property, wherever in the world that private property is, without having to rely (solely or even at all) on local security services. (MTE could very well be operating its webcam on behalf of another entity, either corporate or governmental: it is certainly the case that other websites are using the MTE webcam to surveill 45th Street and Fifth Avenue, possibly without MTE's knowledge or approval.)

In keeping with the internationalism of the protests against the WTO, the SCP performed SCP Headline News in front of MTE's webcam. For this performance, SCP director Art Toad created a new "World News" board, one that shows a giant raptorial bird (modeled after the eagles in Nazi propaganda) labeled CAPITALISM and standing atop the earth. So that the webcam couldn't fail to capture each and every board, the SCP held up each one for an entire minute, which is normally the duration of the entire play. In order to keep the performance short, the commercials were not included. On this occasion, the SCP consisted of Bill and Susan, who performed the play, and Miranda, who watched the play at a computer terminal in Blackout Books and helped a video crew tape what transpired. There was also a video crew at the performance itself.

After the performance, Bill and the video crew when to the offices of MTE and gave someone named Gary a copy of the flyer the SCP designed for its performance. The SCP also faxed MTE a copy of the following text:


We're the Surveillance Camera Players, a group formed three years ago to protest the use of surveillance cameras in public places and the attendant loss of our constitutional rights to privacy and anonymity. We manifest our opposition to the cameras by performing specially adapted plays directly in front of them. We use our visibility -- our public appearances, our interviews with the media, and our website at the-scp.html -- to explode the myth that only those who are "guilty of something" are opposed to being surveilled by unknown eyes.
We performed in front of your webcam yesterday -- on the day that the World Trade Organization (WTO) met in Seattle -- to call attention to and denounce it. You are a video post-production and design studio, not a security company -- why are you surveilling people? Without the consent or even knowledge of any of the people affected, you are using a private camera to not only capture but also continuously upload to the internet the image of everyone who happens to walk through the intersection of 45th Street and Fifth Avenue. Your on-going violation of our rights is intolerable, and we will continue to protest against it. In the eyes of the general public, your webcam will be seen as an intrusive violation of constitutional rights, not as a "hip" form of self-promotion.

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

Return to

Surveillance Camera Players


Return to