uh, no:

we do not sell surveillance cameras

Periodically, every month or so, we receive an e-mail from someone who thinks that the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) is a company that sells surveillance cameras. No doubt, somewhere on the Internet, there are one or more web sites or search engines that mistakenly list the SCP as such a company; and this rather comical mistake has been copied and repeated again and again and again. The poor bastards looking to buy surveillance cameras from us don't know that their "information" on the SCP is incorrect; they have rather naively assumed that their source wouldn't make such a stupid mistake or would have caught and corrected it a long time ago. But they are wrong, all wrong; and so we are the regular recepients of e-mails that give a clear picture of the "thinking" of those who use surveillance cameras.

What follows are a few of such e-mails. The first was received 8 March 2003 and subject-headed "Need some good advice."

I am the President of our home owners association and we are having trespassing/vandalism problems at our community pool at night. What kind of surveillance cameras should I be looking at? Here are what I think my requirements are.

Cameras that will cover about a 270 degree area. Can be mounted on an existing 20 foot light pole. AC connection more difficult but possible. Wireless is preferred. Image recording to be done within 1/2 to 3/4 mile radius. If "hidden" within cabana, AC power available. Need to assure low positioned cameras are protected from vandalism.

Future need may be for playground/park common area that would be light-pole mounted. Would need to be compatible with any system we acquire now.

Objectives of system are to identify, capture and prosecute perpetrators. Be a deterrent to future "attacks." What can you recommend?

Thank you, [name omitted] - President, Ashford Hills Property Owners Association, Houston, TX

In point of fact, Ashford Hills is located in West Houston, Texas. While Houston itself is overwhelmingly poor and black or hispanic, Ashford Hills is a rich all-white residential area. Its "the best kept secret in West Houston," says one of the local real estate companies. Well, it looks like the secret is out. People, certain unspecified people, know all about Ashford Hills, even its prized and very large "community" pool. No doubt open to anyone who is a member of the Property Owners Association (POA), and closed to anyone who isn't, this pool would obviously be a source of resentment and a predictable target for "attacks" (i.e., class struggle, expressed here as "vandalism," which no doubt means graffiti).

The writer says the attacks are coming at night. Presumably the pool is closed to absolutely all (and not just the poor) at night. Has the Property Owners Association exhausted all the other possible solutions, before turning to video surveillance? It doesn't seem so; otherwise the writer would have said, "We've already tried putting up really good fences and turning on a few really bright lights, and have found that neither seems to work." It seems equally likely that the writer hasn't thought about installing signs that warn trespassers that they are being videotaped. Certainly such signs would be easy to read, even at night, if the pool was well-lit. . . .

But it seems clear that the POA doesn't want to deter or prevent further "attacks" against their property. No, they want "to identify, capture and prosecute perpetrators." In other words, the POA is so hell-bent on having total control over its property that it is willing to sustain a few more "attacks" -- it is willing to spend a little more money to paint over some more graffiti -- as long as it means that, eventually, they catch and punish someone. It's more important that they eventually catch and punish someone (get the police and the criminal injustice system involved in the POA's self-protection racket) than that they stop the graffiti immediately and never get to punish someone.

And so, it's almost funny that the POA has left itself open to the following problem, which inevitably arises when "security" is provided by technology and not by (other) human beings: surveillance cameras are "necessary" to protect a pool; and something else is needed to protect the cameras themselves. And so the pool is actually protected by two systems, one of them wireless, which means that it is more than likely that "something will go wrong with the technology" and videotape that might allow the police to identify perpetrators will not be obtained.

Think about it: the President of the POA is already talking about protecting the cameras, even before they have been installed, even before the cameras have, in their turn, been attacked by vandals. It clear that he (the POA President) already knows, imagines or fears that the "kids" who are vandalizing his pool are such hostile, callous or self-confident people that, if confronted with surveillance cameras, they will attack rather than be "scared off" by them. Does this not suggest that video surveillance of the pool -- no matter the sophistication or manufacturer of the cameras or recording devices -- is doomed to fail?

One last point: if and when a camera-system is installed for use against night-time vandalism, it wouldn't be long before members of the POA -- concerned about a totally different issue, i.e., not vandalism against property but the physical safety of their children while in the company of other children, the parents of other children or official "adult supervisors" -- start arguing that the pool surveillance system should also be used during the day. Such an argument would be hard to resist, provided that one ignored the following: while there was little or no potential for someone to commercially exploit the "juicy" footage recorded at night (teens spraying graffiti), there would be a very great potential for someone to exploit the "juicy" footage recorded during the day (children of all ages, in swim clothes, playing in or near water).

But rather than go through all this, Bill Brown of the SCP decided to send the President of the Ashford Hills Property Owners Association the following response to his letter:

Dear Moron:

You have written to an ANTI-surveillance group, not a provider of surveillance cameras. We hope that, if you should decide to operate spy cameras (and obviously we hope that you won't), you do so with much greater care than you address your e-mails.

Oh! And if you write us a hostile/abusive response to this e-mail, we will be happy to make a prompt, detailed and immediate complaint to your service provider about it. Clear?

The second paragraph was included in this particular instance (paragraph #2 is not a regular feature of such replies) because a few of those who had been unlucky enough to be rebuffed in such a brutal fashion didn't suck it up and move on, but instead risked violating their Internet Service Provider's Terms of Service provisions by 1) replying and 2) doing so in an overtly abusive manner.

While the President of the POA dared to reply, his response wasn't abusive. No, not at all. But it was incredibly stupid, and thus even more revealing.

Dear Person,

Responding to your email has certainly not been a priority so it has taken some time to get back to you. Thank you for your response.

Regarding your paranoia about receiving a hostile email, let me assure you that I am not a hostile person and would find no personal benefit in writing such an email. You, in fact seem to be the hostile one by beginning your reply with name calling.

Regarding the reporting of me to some internet police agency if I hurt your feelings, I find it interesting that I sent an email to the "Contact Us" link on a surveillance camera site and some how you intercepted it. I certainly could be wrong, but it appears to me that you are hacking into a business web site. On the other hand, the link may be set up incorrectly. It is of no importance to me.

In follow up to your claim that you are an "ANTI-surveillance group", how strong or effective a group can it be if you do not proclaim your name and position in any relevant manner?

Enjoy your struggle, [signed] Moron

It goes without saying that there isn't any such thing as an "internet police agency," and that the authority Bill had invoked was merely the Moron's own Internet Service Provider. But the extent of this Moron's ignorance is really quite astounding. Rather than admitting or realizing that his source of information ("the 'Contact Us' link on a surveillance camera site") is wrong -- rather than clicking http://www.notbored.org/the-scp.html and seeing for himself if the SCP does or does not "proclaim" its "name and position" in a "relevant manner" -- the Moron would rather speculate on the paranoid (im)possibility that someone is "hacking into a [legitimate] business web site." Mind you: This paranoid idiot is the same guy who wants to use high-powered cameras to spy upon teenaged boys late at night.

The second e-mail of note was received 22 April 2003, had no subject heading, and was filled with spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Dear Sir

I'm looking for a camera that the police can use in our drug area. It has to be a remote and be able to transmit about 2 miles or more and if not what do you have and what range. Can it be move to other areas. Also its has to be able to be used at night and not be notice up on a pole. It also need have a VCR to record the action. This would be control from our police station. Do you have anything like that.

Mayor, Joseph L. Fisona, Town of Elkton, Md

Sent the same e-mail that was mailed to the President of the POA, the Elected Clown of Elkton hasn't responded. At least, not yet.

The third e-mail -- actually a pair of e-mails -- was received 6 May 2004.

Subject  Border Surveillance Systems We are a global Corporation involved in security systems in the Middle East.  Please inform us of what guidance you provide in the security and border surveillance fields.  Thank you. Gulf Associates, Inc.  GULFNY@aol.com
International Microwave Corp, Ct. Kindly provide us with the name of the Director of International at International Microwave Corp, as well as fax and e-mail. Thank you. GULFNY@aol.com

Our response was predictable:

Amazing! Despite the fact that we put up a page specifically saying that we do NOT sell surveillance cameras, http://www.notbored.org/sales.html you have contacted us for "guidance." You are obviously incompetent. We are anti-surveillance acitivists! If you are capable of making a mistake such as obvious as this one, you are capable of making even worse mistakes. And so, our advice to you is stop being "involved" in security systems. the Surveillance Camera Players

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