bill brown

The day before I interviewed Ionel Talpazan in Harlem, I was there interviewing Bill Brown, the privacy advocate behind the performance art group The Surveillance Camera Players. Bills a fascinating guy. Among other things, he leads weekly walking tours around New York City, pointing out hidden security cameras that are directed toward public space. He also maps these cameras and charts their exponential growth over time Well, I just noticed that hes quoted in a very good Village Voice piece concerning DARPAs new Combat Zones That See surveillance project. Heres a clip:

In 1791, the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham proposed a jail, circular in shape. The warden would sit in a dark observation booth in the middle; the prisoners would sit in well-lit, inward-facing cells along the circumference. Under the constant threat of being watched, the jailed would change their behavior, Bentham theorized, bending their activities to the warden’s rules.

Two centuries later, England has 2.5 million security cameras spread throughout the country, by some estimates. Several cities, like the port town of King’s Lynn, are covered by the lenses.

“It’s exactly what Bentham predicted,” said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International , a British civil liberties group. “The kids there are giving up going onto the street. They say it’s almost like being in a glass-paneled room, with their parents on the other side. They’re forced into smaller and smaller areas so they can be kids in private.”

Putting people under electronic watch induces a kind of split personality, said Bill Brown, who leads tours of Manhattan’s spy cams as part of his duties with the Surveillance Camera Players . The authorities want people to obey the law, to behave rationally. But video surveillance does the exact opposite. It makes people feelcorrectlylike they’re constantly being watched, like they’re paranoid.

“And that’s not a rational state at all,” Brown said. “It’s a mental condition.”

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