Surveillance Project documents the presence of video
cameras placed in Washington DC after September 11. The
project was undertaken by the staff of the Electronic Privacy
Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, DC. Many of the
images displayed in the exhibit may be viewed online at
Who Watches the Watchers?
debate the true meaning of Juvenal’s maxim, “Sed quis custodiet
ipsos custodes?” The Roman satirist often poked fun at the
ruling elite. According to one commentator, Juvenal’s guardians
were the eunuchs left with the women of Rome while the men
traveled beyond the city. Perhaps there is no need to guard
But in the modern
era, the words are a call for greater transparency and greater
accountability of those in power. Leading economists ask who
will watch the regulators of financial markets. Human rights
groups ask who will police the police. Commentators on technology
ask who will observe those who have the means to observe others.
century utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham described the
perfect prison as the “panopticon,” a place where prisoners
could be under constant surveillance. The Panopticon placed
prisoner cells around a central observation tower. From the
tower, prisoners could be observed but could not see who was
watching. Bentham was impressed that the threat of surveillance
would be enough to coerce the inmates such that actual observation
would no longer be necessary.
social philosophers from Michel Foucault and Irving Goffman
to Oscar Gandy and Gary Marx have noted that observation plays
a similar function as a means of social control. In Discipline
and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Foucault wrote, “Hence
the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmates
a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures
the automatic functioning of power.” Surveillance thus becomes
a means of social and political control. It is a way for those
in power not only to observe, but also to control.
Privacy and Public Places
the debate about video cameras is the question of whether
one has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place.
Proponents of the camera systems say that if you can be observed
by others you have no expectation of privacy. But such a view
ignores the role that technology plays in enhancing observation.
can easily obtain privacy against another by turning away
or by speaking softly. But how do people obtain privacy against
technology that seeks to observe and to record all? And what
if such technology is eventually designed to target those
who desire privacy?
a century ago, Louis Brandeis said that the law must evolve
to safeguard individuals from the encroachments of modern
technology that made surveillance easy and inexpensive. The
Brandeis article, credited for the modern right of privacy,
concerned observation in a public space.
The Debate in Washington DC
The Mayor of
Washington, DC Anthony A. Williams has argued that increased
government surveillance is a reality after September 11. He
has argued for the adoption of elaborate camera systems, similar
to those now in place in London and Sydney, Australia.
City Council has resisted the Mayor’s proposal. Council members
and witnesses raised questions about the video camera system
at a public hearing in June 2002. Residents asked whether
their front doors and windows would fall within view of the
police camera networks. Legislation is currently under consideration
that would limit the use of the video camera system. The United
States Congress has also questioned the unregulated use of
video surveillance in Washington, DC.
Transparency and Open Government
The work of
the Observing Surveillance project has been undertaken in
cooperation with the Freedom of Information Act litigation
pursued by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. EPIC
has filed a series of FOIA requests with the Metropolitan
Police Department and the Park Police to determine the scope
and operation of the DC video surveillance systems. Material
obtained from the litigation is incorporated in the Observing
Public Protest and Constitutional Freedom
has long been the center of political expression in the United
States. Martin Luther King delivered the I Have a Dream Speech
from the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Over the last thirty years,
millions of Americans from all across the country have come
to the nation’s capital to express their views on important
obtained by EPIC under the FOIA indicate that in the last
few years the Metropolitan Police Department used video surveillance
from helicopters to monitor political demonstrations in Washington,
OBSERVING SURVEILLANCE AND ADVOCACY
The goal of
the Observing Surveillance project is to promote
public debate about the presence of video cameras in Washington,
DC. Many systems of surveillance arrive quietly. A video
surveillance system in the capital of the United States
requires public debate. A second goal of the project is
to explore the use of media to promote public dialogue.
Most policy debate is based on text. The prevailing paradigm
is the argument. It appears in legal briefs, congressional
testimony, and policy papers. But most people do not read
briefs, testimony, or policy papers. They view images.
Prologue: The Role of Idioms and Icons in Advocacy
undertaken by the staff of EPIC have made use of a wide range
of political images and idioms. Mouse pads titled "Clipper
2.1," designed with the assistance of Phil Zimmerman,
helped launch a campaign against a government effort to regulate
encryption. Stickers labeled "Suitable for government
surveillance" placed on hotel telephones drew attention
to FBI surveillance proposals at a conference on Computers,
Freedom, and Privacy. Buttons with the slogan "Privacy
is a RIGHT not a PREFERENCE" helped shape the public
debate over self-regulation. Bumper stickers that proclaimed
"privacy.org the site for news, information, and action"
announced the arrival of a new privacy advocacy website. The
challenge in the digital world is to find idioms and icons
that are familiar and accessible.
The Travel Postcard
One of the
first new forms of inexpensive media in the twentieth century
was the travel postcard. All across America and Europe travelers
would purchase penny postcards with colorful images to send
to friends and relatives back home. The postcards captured
images of monuments and parks, beaches and famous hotels.
Surveillance project adapted the metaphor of the travel
postcard. The first image published was of two American flags
against a cloudy sky with a half-dome, lampost-shaped video
camera in the foreground. The font was selected to mimic a
classic travel card -- bold italics proclaim "Washington,
DC." The title across the top "Observing Surveillance."
cards incorporated the custom of a caption on the obverse
of the card to identify location. For Observing Surveillance,
the location is the position of the video surveillance cameras
depicted on the card. The choice of cameras is not accidental.
Several may be found in front of FBI headquarters and the
US Department of Justice.
is a popular way to capture several images on a single card.
Observing Surveillance parodied the montage of Washington
with a series of images showing several surveillance cameras.
The Tourist Map
is one of the most popular tourist locations in the world.
The Washington tourist bureau provides colorful maps for visitors
to locate museums, metro stops, and other sites. The Observing
Surveillance project modified a Washington tourist bureau
map to indicate the location of video surveillance cameras.
Tourists can then decide whether to visit or to avoid these
new Washington landmarks.
The Pop-up Window
For users of
the Internet, the pop-up window is a genuine annoyance. It
obscures the primary image screen and breaks the simple point
and click routine of Internet surfing. One major Internet
Service Provider that offered to block pop-ads is currently
running a campaign with pop-up ads with the simple claim "Get
rid of this advertising!"
Surveillance embraced the pop-up ad to promote public participation
in the DC City Council hearing on video surveillance. The
goal is clear -- focus the users attention on the statement
and encourage a response. Protest has always had this character.
The Vacation Album
has released a new software program iPhoto that makes possible
the production of handsome, "linen-bound" photo
albums. The Apple advertising promotes the use of the the
program to record vacation memories. The images feature young
children splashing in the water at the beach, the parents
smiling close by.
technology that makes possible the transfer of digital images
to vacation albums also makes possible digital documentaries.
Text can be joined with photographs. Monochrome substituted
for color. Citations incorporated.
Surveillance project demonstrates visually the impact of surveillance.
Images of liberty, freedom, and travel are juxtaposed with
images of surveillance and control. The images of surveillance
cameras suggest also the construction of a Panopticon in the
nations capital. Observing Surveillance attempts to
communicate ideas through images. Watch the watchers. The
battle over control of the technology of observation has just
this work has been made possible by a grant from the Culture,
Media and Education program of the Ford Foundation.