Achtung, Kamera!

The Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) have often complained about some of the coverage they have received because they have either been presented in a contextless vacuum or in a badly blended stew that contains unrelated groups and individuals ("extreme" women who fight other women and a little old lady from Pasadena, in the case of The Living Edge; adolescents who use webcams to turn their bedrooms into sets and grown men who use video cameras to look up women's skirts, in the case of Spy-TV; and advertizers and camera companies, in the case of Media TV). The SCP have complained about bad coverage so many times that one might think the group wasn't happy with any of the coverage it has received!

But the SCP is very happy with the way it is presented in the programme entitled Achtung, Kamera! Im Netwerk der totaler uberwachtung [Attention, Camera! In the network there is total surveillance], which ran on the Austrian TV station ORF 2 on 23 June 2000. Unlike Anatomy of Crime, which staged a ludicrously lop-sided debate between opponents and proponents of the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems in public places, Achtung, Kamera! gives "equal time" to both sides. Produced by Thomas Edlinger and Elisabeth Scharang, Achtung, Kamera! presents several well-known opponents of public CCTV (not just one or two of them), including Simon Davies, director of Privacy International; Duncan Campbell, author of several important articles on the global surveillance system called ECHELON; and a group of women who camped out at Menwith Hill, England, to protest the existence of a huge ECHELON complex there. These are strong voices, far stronger than, say, the voice of Norm Siegel, the Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who has appeared in one or two of the TV shows that have featured the SCP, but whose position with respect to the advancement of individual freedom is relatively weak.

In Achtung, Kamera! the opponents of CCTV are allowed to speak for periods much longer than the standard "sound bite" (especially Simon Davies, who appears five times over the course of the programme). As a result, the bold assertions, thoughtful reassurances and resounding promises made by the proponents of CCTV -- who, in this programme, include police officers, architects, retail merchants, computer programmers, security experts and the Austrian Minister of the Interior -- seem to be as self-contradictory, narrow-minded and cynical as they really are. Conversely, the existence and activities of groups such as the SCP do not seem "cool," "prankish" or "paranoid": they seem like part of a large and very serious current of protest.

As Achtung, Kamera! makes clear, the existence of and problems posed by CCTV systems are truly international in scope. The 45-minute-long programme was filmed in five different countries: Holland, England, Austria, Germany and the United States. (Because England is the most highly surveilled nation on the planet, the programme's coverage of it is especially thorough. Achtung, Kamera! documents CCTV systems in five different British cities: London, Newham, Redding, Morgantown and Menwith Hill.) Though they have different reasons for doing so, each of the five countries is rapidly developing its domestic (regional and local) surveillance systems: Holland, because rioting football fans cause a lot of property damage and injury to people; England, because several key American and NATO military bases are located there, because "cutting down on crime" is a top priority, and because rioting football fans are a problem in the United Kingdom, too; Austria, because post-modernist architects are creating "intelligent buildings," in which CCTV is an integral part of the architecture; Germany, because housing developments are often the sites for racist or xenophobic violence; and the United States, because "cutting down on crime" is such an over-riding concern.

Of course, "cutting down on crime" is precisely what the Dutch and English police are trying to do in their respective countries; there is a vogue for "intelligent buildings" in the United States as well as in Austria. Surveillance is an intranational and transnational phenomenon. Not only do governments and police forces spy on their own people, but they also spy on the police, governments and police forces of other countries, as well. ECHELON is (one of) the means by which the United States (and England, to a lesser extent) spies on everyone else. There are several similarities between ECHELON and local CCTV systems, the most important of which are the facts that both surveill large numbers of people in an indiscriminate fashion, without probable cause or properly issued warrants, and without either informing or getting consent from the people who have been illegally searched by very penetrating stares. Though it sketches out the similarities between ECHELON and CCTV by juxtaposition, and not by direct exposition, Achtung, Kamera! is unique among the programmes that have featured the SCP: it gets and transmits "the big picture" as well as a sense of just how big the "big picture" really is.

As in Anatomy of Crime, the segment on the SCP in Achtung, Kamera! appears at the very end of the programme. (It seems that one gets to be last in a TV programme by being brought into the project at the end of the period in which shooting is being done.) But what is a disadvantage in Anatomy of Crime is an advantage in Achtung, Kamera! While the former has already made up your mind for you, the latter -- by offering both sides of the story, instead of just one -- has built up some dramatic and intellectual tension. As a result, the last (not necessarily the most convincing) series of arguments or images in the programme are likely to sway the debate one way or the other.

It would appear from the press release distributed by ORF 2 on the day of the broadcast that the SCP's presence at the end does indeed have an effect on the entire programme. As translated by Bill, the press release says:

Anyone interested in data protection and citizens' rights should tune into ORF 2 today at 10:30 pm. The documentary In the network there is total surveillance will be presented as part of the Focus Point series.

At the same time that, in the USA, citizens' rights to privacy are being loudly proclaimed on the Internet and, in New York, the Surveillance Camera Players perform activist street-theater against the Surveillance State, there is little awareness of these problems in Europe.

On the other side, there are the European Union-Europe Police, long-time advisors of ENFOPOL, who have adapted from the FBI technical standards for international eavesdropping and the interception of e-mail and faxes.

The ORF-documentary asks the question: Is the EU becoming a Surveillance Union? [...]

Three-and-a-half-minutes long, the SCP's segment in Achtung, Kamera! shows Bill and Susan in two locations in Manhattan: Times Square and Washington Square Park. In the first location, which is identified by the voice-over as "the heart of the espionage supermarket of the USA," Bill ("a political activist against all forms of Law and Order ideology") displays the SCP's map of camera locations in the area and points to particular cameras on the street. With Bill in the background, performing You are being watched for your own safety and Headline News for a webcam, Susan gives copies of this map to passersby, talks to a few of them and explains that the use cameras in public places is an invasion of privacy. Interpolated into this last sequence is a picture of an SCP performance that was captured by a webcam and downloaded by an associate of the group. It is, as a matter of fact, the very same picture that Sheila Cameron uses in her TV feature on the SCP, which was also taped in New York in May 2000. Unlike Ms. Cameron, who makes no reference to webcams in her feature, the producers of Actung, Kamera! explain that both local CCTV systems and "the global high-tech network," i.e., the Internet, see what the SCP is doing "on the street." (Given the programme's attention to his policies [see below], it's nice that the picture in question contains the SCP's mocking depiction of NYC Mayor Giuliani.)

The programme's voice-over explains that Washington Square Park is a "little bit of nice green space" in which one finds more and more "homeless people and small-time dealers," and that, as a result, the park, under Giuliani's "zero tolerance policies," has been equipped with eleven surveillance cameras and a police communications van in which the cameras are monitored. (There's an ironic bite in the idea that CCTV would bring, in the words of the voice-over, "law and order" [uberrecht und ordung] to the area.) Standing in the park with Susan by his side, Bill explains that, under Herr Giuliani, homelessness isn't a human tragedy that should be mitigated by social service programs, but a criminal matter for the police to take care of, and that the surveillance cameras -- which use infra-red light to "see" in the dark -- are the precise means by which the police identify the location of people who sleep in the park illegally. Bill also explains that the use of police CCTV systems in New York is almost a secret and that news of their existence comes out in dribs and drabs.

(In both Times Square and Washington Square Park, Bill is wearing a T-shirt that says GIBT NAZIS KEINE CHANCE [DON'T GIVE NAZIS A CHANCE], which he bought and wore when he lived in Germany in the early 1990s. The SCP had already written and posted to its Web site Guten Tag, Deutschalnd! and so Bill was keenly aware of the opportunity presented to him, and so tried to make the most of it.)

After one more (!) interview-sequence with Simon Davies, the programme ends. The very end of the SCP's performance of 1984 comes on screen. Burbling electronic music fills the sound-track. While the programme's superimposed credits roll, Winston holds a dull-red sign that says, I LOVE BIG BROTHER, and a figure in a death's-head mask holds up a black-and-white sign that says, THE END. In the lower-left part of the screen, underneath the scrolling credits, a policeman wonders on-camera, waving people towards him. At the moment that Death's Head shoots Winston, the music stops and the screen collapses into a single centered point, and then goes out.

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

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

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