Cameraheads in Seattle protest CCTVs in public places

The Camerahead Project is a Seattle protest group upset about the growing prevalence of CCTV cameras there -- they're staging a bit of theater tomorrow in Cal Anderson Park, walking around with giant cameras on their heads to get people thinking about what it means to have their public spaces under constant surveillance.

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.”
I met Paul at one of my signings in Seattle for Little Brother and loved his camerahead outfit -- he says it was inspired by Pablo Defendini's Little Brother poster. Link


  1. CCTV ain’t going nowhere, everytime there is a crime people expect CCTV to have captured it and if there isn’t any , they say ‘why not?’

    CCTV has another advantage, you can’t intimidate the faceless authority behind it, real life witnesses have to live with the people they grass on and the Police are jack-s**t useless at protecting them.

    Anyways it just goes full circle back to the days when humans were small wandering groups and everyone knew everyone elses business anyway.
    Privacy is a modern invention.

  2. yesandno. Privacy matters more now since the state can destroy you with mere information. When I was a motile sprite they had to actually lay hands on you to do damage.

  3. Here’s an example of a wearable security camera in the “real” world:

    By the way, I actually WON the contest with this invention. Grand Prize, baby!

  4. Billybob, here in London where there are about 14 CCTVs per red blood cell per person, Scotland Yard has found that CCTVs were useful in solving crimes where they were present less than *three percent* of the time. San Francisco’s exhaustive, longitudinal study of CCTV efficacy concluded that, at best, CCTVs move crime 100m down the pavement.

    Meanwhile, every dollar spent on CCTV is a dollar we don’t spend on preventative (as opposed to forensic) policing. My friend was murdered on his doorstep in London because the guard that would have normally sat at the tube-exit near his place had been replaced by a CCTV camera, which couldn’t call the police when three thugs followed him up the stairs and out the exit.

    And every CCTV we place is a CCTV that can be hijacked by bad people to do bad things — hardly a day goes by without a report of some Peeping Tom using a CCTV to spy on some poor woman in her bathroom, or to follow their neighbors around town.

    And CCTV footage is every bit as subject to pressure as human testimony — so much CCTV footage is “lost” or “unavailable” that people who are pressured to keep damning CCTV evidence out of the public eye could certainly plausibly say that the camera wasn’t working that day.

  5. Camera Head Project page:

    From the “Become an Agent” section:
    I am in the process of mass producing the “camerahead” technology. You can order one or more “cameraheads” and begin your own surveillance missions. You will be able to post your footage on this website.

    Seems like an education Halloween costume in the least.

  6. I always thought, and said, that the whole concept of surveillance would be turned on it’s head if the cameras outputs were visible to all, publically, for free.

    The bizarre thing about surveillance is the concept of taking what is clearly a public ‘view’, and privatizing it.

    A camera pointing to a public park: creepy. But what if you and everyone could see what the camera was looking at? Are my friends hanging out tonight? Is the basketball court available? Are my kids playing where they said they were? If Bad Things happen there would be more and credible witnesses.

    Perverts and freakers argue ‘but bad people could see victims’ — well duh. You can do that as well by standing across the street, no? For every novel way for a pervert to… pervert, there’s 100 fun and interesting things to do with it. Plus, ordinary folk get to witness.

    But no one ever argues this. I think the whole world has gone stupid.

  7. Hmm, this protest takes place quite nearby and during the Capitol Hill Block party. Good time to get noticed, I guess.

  8. I don’t see what the big deal is about CCTV, privacy-wise. Sure, it’s expensive, useless, and the security benefits are questionable at best. But from a privacy point of view, these cameras are in places where people should have no expectation of privacy. One of my pet peeves is how so many people have so much unreasonable expectation of privacy, be it on the street, in their cars, in their front yards, in the content they put on the web, what sites they see… People need to realize that what you do is NOT secret, no matter how hard you wish it were (unless you do it inside your home and/or with someone/something that has agreed to keep your secret). Anything that gets people to not expect privacy, to expect less privacy, or at the very least to ponder what it means to expect privacy in a public place, has some value in my book.

    @#3’s “Privacy is a modern invention”:



  9. Note that both Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation Deputy Superintendent Christopher Williams are on record stating that the rushed installation of cameras in Cal Anderson Park in Seattle — prior to engagement with the neighboring community and groups like the ACLU that was promised by the Mayor’s Office — was done as an emergency response to vandalism in the park. I’ve asked where the public can find a record of this extreme and presumably unprecedented level of park vandalism, since that information will surely be useful in the evaluation of the cameras’ effectiveness as a deterrent to vandalism. See this comment posted in response to a related posting in Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger‘s blog for details & references.

    We’ll be spending $850,000 on installation of cameras in four parks for this 21-month pilot program. Meanwhile, our Parks Department is asking community members to raise funds to complete construction of two new parks the Seattle neighborhood of Capitol Hill.

    The public has expressed concerns with this park surveillance program. Our City Council withheld funding of it pending some reasonable stipulations (show us the protocol for use of the images, etc.). The Mayor side-stepped Council, found other funding for the first installation, and one day in February, 2008, they just appeared. Later, at a Parks Committee meeting of our City Council when the protocol was discussed and voted upon, one councilmember, Tim Burgess, introduced an amendment to remove the requirement to hold a public meeting in each park prior to installing more cameras. That amendment failed.

    Many of us are puzzled by the bizarre rush to get these surveillance cameras installed in our parks.

  10. Oh, and I meant to write, “prior to engagement with the neighboring community and groups like the ACLU that was promised by the Mayor’s Office, a promise that was never fulfilled.”

  11. I’d be totally ok with extensive public surveillance provided that their presence is not hidden and that all video was immediately available online, live and archived.

    And that there were no legal penalties for avoiding it (such as with head-mount IR lamps that block out views of the face, though of course that would leave gait analysis and other such identifying features).

    I’m reading Vinge’s _Rainbows_End_ right now (available for free online, yay!) and I think that the ideas therein of publicly accessible video infrastructure are compelling. I’d love to see what sorts of services people could hack together with access to such information.

  12. @17:

    “People need to realize that what you do is NOT secret, no matter how hard you wish it were (unless you do it inside your home and/or with someone/something that has agreed to keep your secret).”

    True enough, which is why I would actually prefer to see more cameras, provided the data is publicly available (if the cameras are on public land, paid for with public funds, the data collected should be public and available live on the web).

    However, agreements to keep something secret shouldn’t be a guarantee. Like they say, two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead.

  13. I have to admit I was a little disappointed to find the US edition of Little Brother didn’t have the same cool camerahead cover as the UK cover I saw. Oh well, cool book still.

    The costume is pretty cool. I’d love to see a picture of a kid with a cap and slingshot ready to shoot the camera like in the poster/cover (Obviously just as a pose, not because I want anyone slingshoted.)

  14. “Blatant rip-off of The Residents. Cute idea though.”

    No, not really. It’s actually a rip-off of Albert Brooks’ brilliant 1979 film, Real Life. To be able to film an American family 24/7, he devises a camera system that the film crew wears, like a space helmet.

    “Only six of these cameras were ever made. Only five of them ever worked. We have four of those.” – Albert Brooks

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