NYPD Surveillance Before and During the RNC

Of course, we are not at all surprised that -- during the course of its truly extensive surveillance of political activists who intended and/or actually managed to protest against the cynical decision to hold the 2004 Republic National Convention (RNC) in New York City, just three years after the September 11th 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center -- the New York Police Department (NYPD) paid a fair amount of attention to us.

We are mentioned a total of five times in the surveillance reports that were assembled by the NYPD's "Intelligence Division" between 3 October 2003 and 4 September 2004, and finally released to the public on 16 May 2007 due to a court order that the NYPD decided not to appeal. Two of these references, which can be located under "Key Findings" for 13 February 2004 and in a report by the "Research and Analysis Squad" for 11 March 2004, are substantive. Brought together, but without changing a word, these reports[1] say that:

The Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) is a self-described anarchist group founded in NYC in 1996. It primary focus is to protest the use of surveillance cameras in public places. The group is apolitical, aligning itself with no political party, citing the belief that democracy should be direct, not "representative."

The total membership is unknown, but SCP encourages others to perform the acts as they do without necessarily recruiting them, so the actual number of persons involved in this sort of activity can be significantly greater than actual membership.

SCP conducts walking tours of Manhattan to point out the locations of surveillance cameras, demonstrating how these cameras "infringe on the Constitutional rights" of New Yorkers who are unaware that they are being filmed. The group has conducted these tours in security-sensitive locations such as the United Nations and City Hall. These events, which are publicized on the Internet have usually attracted up to 15 participants. As of this date, these events have occurred without incidents. In one such tour, it was suggested by a group member that wires necessary to operate a particular surveillance device was easily accessible, and therefore vulnerable.

The group also conducts and encourages others to conduct "Surveillance Camera Theater." This entails performing short plays in front of security cameras, generally lasting two minutes.

SCP maintains a website, www.notbored.com, that includes their beliefs, past and future activities, and information about similar groups worldwide. On their website, the group encourages performers to disperse at the order of a police officer and avoid arrest, but adds "only get arrested when you want to get arrested." The site also includes a page that lists the military and governmental visitors to the site, which SCP pledges to keep updated as the RNC approaches.

Information from the group's website indicates that it will be active during the RNC. The site contains a map with camera locations in the general vicinity of the RNC site. The area detailed on the site encompasses 11th Avenue to 6th Avenue from W 32d to W 38th Streets. SCP has organized the cameras into groups according to who they think is maintaining them (NYPD, Traffic, Private, etc.), along with the number of devices maintained. The legend reads as follows: Private surveillance cameras, 217; Government Surveillance cameras, 12; New York City or NYPD cameras, 5; Traffic surveillance cameras, 3; Elevated surveillance cameras, 2. The total number of cameras mapped by SCP is 239.

The group plans the following actions during the convention: update and distribute its map; "inform" protestors, RNC delegates and the media about the level of surveillance they will face when they come to New York City; perform in front of publicly installed surveillance cameras (the times and places will be announced forehand, presumably via their site); a walking tour of the convention area each day that the RNC is in session (meeting times and locations announced beforehand).

The page on their site dedicated to the RNC reiterates their claim that the group does not condone criminal acts nor does it intend for any information it shares on the site to be taken as an encouragement to commit crimes.

There are remarkably few errors here, certainly much fewer than in the articles published about us in such newspapers as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, etc. etc. Just because we are not part of the two-party electoral spectacle does not make us "apolitical"; our walking tours have "attracted" as many as 25 people; our website is not "www.notbored.com" but "www.notbored.org/the-scp.html." But these are insignificant errors, hardly worth correcting. This much should be clear to all: these reports were certainly not written by "average" cops: they were written by highly educated people who are trained writers. That is to say, by professionals, by professional intelligence analysts.

As we have said, we were not at all surprised. Our political activity in part directly concerns the NYPD[2]; as early as December 2001 we had surmised that the NYPD was aware of our existence and had been issued orders on how to deal with us[3]; and, as the NYPD's own report(s) indicate, for many years prior to the RNC we had used a few simple procedures to determine and list "the military and governmental visitors to the site."[4] Not only was the NYPD keeping tabs on us, but so were the FBI, the NSA, the NRO, the Executive Office of the POTUS, the US military, et al (no doubt they all still are keeping and updating these "tabs").

But what does surprise us -- it even disgusts and outrages us -- is the fact that, despite our reiterated position on violence and the complete absence of any "incidents" during our performances and walking tours, the NYPD has dared to mention us at some length in the document it has published on the www.nyc.gov website[5] to defend itself against various allegations made by, among others, the New York Civil Liberties Union, that such surveillance was in fact unnecessary and in violation of the law. Under "Republican National Convention Open Source Threat" -- which claims to document "excerpts from and descriptions of the various websites, chat-rooms, and other forums in which the planning for various violent or illegal civil disobedience activity was undertaken" [emphasis added] -- the NYPD spin-control team repeats the following information about us:

"Surveillance Camera Players" (SCP), an anarchist group founded in 1996, operated a website (www.notbored.com) with a map detailing the locations of all identified surveillance equipment in the general vicinity of the RNC, including: private surveillance cameras: 217, Government surveillance cameras: 12, New York City or NYPD cameras: 5, Traffic surveillance cameras: 3, Elevated surveillance cameras: 2, Total number of cameras: 239.

In one such tour, it was suggested by a group member that the wires necessary to operate a particular surveillance device were easily accessible and therefore vulnerable.[6]

The very fact that we -- who have no connection to nor involvement in any part whatsoever of what the NYPD calls the "three-part co-mingled threat" of "terrorism, anarchist violence and unlawful civil disobedience" -- are mentioned in this spin-control document proves that the NYPD is dead wrong (mistaken or deliberately lying) when they say that their "information gathering . . . was not political surveillance." Our presence in this list of "threat-related activity" in fact proves that the NYPD were not "indifferent to the political views of any attendees at any activity -- protest or otherwise -- in New York City," and that the NYPD's information gathering did in fact address "political opinions." As a result, the department's "Intelligence Division" should be held accountable for their criminal activity, that is, their illegal surveillance of Constitutionally protected free speech.

Surveillance Camera Players
19 May 2007

[1] See http://iwitnessvideo.info/documents/index.html.

[2] The NYPD made extensive use of video surveillance cameras at the RNC. See http://iwitnessvideo.info/blog/15.html.

[3] See http://www.notbored.org/21dec01.html.

[4] See http://www.notbored.org/army.html.

[5] See http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/dcpi/nypd_rnc_overview.html.

[6] Let's get this matter cleared up: the camera in question is an NYPD camera installed directly in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan. It has long been our contention that, there being no crime at this location (that is, not counting the crimes committed inside the church by the representatives of the Vatican), this camera is there simply purely and simply to spy on the political activists who have used this precise location to protest against the Church's positions on contraceptives, abortion, homosexuality, etc. Furthermore, we are not to blame for calling attention to the obvious fact that this precise camera (this "security" device) is in fact almost comically insecure. No: the people who are to blame for 1) dangling an ISDN box from this camera, 2) writing the letters "ISDN" on it, and 3) writing part of the phone number that can be used to access this ISDN box, and thus the camera itself, are in fact the camera's installers and operators: the NYPD itself.

Contact the New York Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail SCP@notbored.org

By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998