City In Case You Forgot the City Is Recording Your Picnic
posted by July 24 at 13:48 PMon
This Saturday, about 35 people, some with giant fake cameras on their heads, will take photographs around Cal Anderson Park from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. to protest the city’s video surveillance program. Here’s what they’ll look like:
Local artist Paul Strong, Jr. says he’s holding the demonstration, called the Camerahead Project, to remind people that video surveillance cameras are recording their every move at Cal Anderson Park and three other parks around town. “The project not only raises the questions of who is watching who and who is watching the watchers, but also … why we are being watched at all,” he says. “There is so much going on in the news about wiretapping and data mining, all these little thing that happen locally go right by.”
The mayor’s office installed the cameras at Cal Anderson Park in March and the city council ratified and expanded the program to three more parks in June—representing an unprecedented government surveillance of Seattle parks. The city code allows police, parks department employees, and city IT staff to view the recordings for broadly defined investigation purposes.
Strong hopes the council will take down the cameras, which cost the city more than $400,000, but he will have to be patient. The program isn’t scheduled for an audit until it’s been in effect for 21 months—in March of 2010. But the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is already anticipating the review. “We want to make sure it is an objective and serious audit that looks at what, if anything, they’ve accomplished,” says spokesman Doug Honig. The group opposed the legislation when it went before the city council, and Honig says the ACLU will distribute fliers at the event this weekend.
As an example of a failed surveillance program, Honig points to England, where millions of cameras around the country the have had a negligible impact on crime. While crime did drop directly front of cameras, it rose outside their view. “The logic is to have more and more because they displace crime,” Honig says. “That moves us toward a surveillance society when government is recording and keeping records on our activities, even when they are legal and law abiding.”
Strong says inspiration for the project comes from the book cover of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, which depicts a camera-head person and a kid winding a slingshot. And, accordingly, he fears the cameras could lead to an Orwellian society. “The next generation of these cameras may have facial recognition and they could just start tracking you everywhere,” he says.
The parks department did not respond to a request for comment.