IT'S 1984 IN 2010

Ruiz wants surveillance cameras downtown

There is a hint of an Orwellian nature about the whole thing– security cameras in downtown Eugene. Big Brother watching you. This is exactly what City Manager, Jon Ruiz is proposing. He wants to spend $100,000 “to purchase automated behavior crime reporting software and cameras” according to the motion reviewed this February. City Council Member George Brown and vice president Betty Taylor were against the idea.

“This seems very dangerous to me,” Brown said. “I need much more information. Where will these cameras point? Will they swivel? Who will be targeted? It brings up a lot of questions that aren’t answered.” He is concerned with the abuse and misuse of these cameras ,suggested that once installed, it would be difficult to regulate how they are used and who would use them.

“Do we really want to go down that road?” asked Taylor. For her, it’s a privacy issue. “A person could be accidentally in close proximity with a criminal and be falsely accused of colluding,” she said. “There are probably possibilities for misuse that no one has thought of. I think that we need time to solicit opinions from the public and to think more before we act.”

Ruiz’s motion was amended to include “only after council approves Manager’s plan for number, location, use and on-going costs after considering expected effectiveness in fighting crime. If it motion passes, Eugene will join the ranks of cities that are being watched like Portland and New York.

Some activist groups refuse to sit by and let government surveillance turn our country into Oceania. Bill Brown started the Surveillance Camera Players in 1996 to gain public awareness for the amount and location of unmarked surveillance cameras in NYC and protest the violation of their right to privacy. The Surveillance Camera Players perform silent shows in front of cameras throughout the city, including an adapted version of “1984.” Since their founding, they have traveled the country mapping out highly surveyed cities. While the original posse is in New York, there are SCPs scattered throughout the world carrying their universal message – Down with Big Brother.

“Nineteen Eighty Four, though a great metaphor and image,doesn’t capture all of today’s reality,” Brown said. “For example, in the novel, (there are areas ) not surveyed; they are outside the Big Brother social system. That isn’t what’s happening today. Nevertheless, we get closer and closer to ‘1984′ every day. Surveillance may be strong and growing, but the society it allegedly ‘protects’ is weak and very vulnerable.”

In 2003, Brown traveled to Portland on a tip that it was surveillance heavy. Portland has relatively few cameras in comparison to NYC (only 61) but about 40 percent are government controlled. He reported the Portland Police Department relies on covert video surveillance to fight the “war on drugs” and noted that several of the cameras were pointed to areas believed to be suitable for drug exchanges. These cameras often point toward the poor neighborhoods, where homeless persons hang out day and night. Brown advises residents to be aware, make maps of camera areas and distribute them, and to “perform for the cameras.”


(Written by Sarah E. Moser and published on 25 March 2010 in The Drop Out, Eugene, Oregon.)

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