Column Date 2007-07-11

Smile, you’re on security camera TV!

Brush your hair. Put on more lipstick. You want to look good on all those security cameras, don’t you?

There are thousands in New York City, of course. But it seems that the Brits have outdone us: there are now over 4.2 million closed-circuit TV cameras in Britain.

They have surveillance cameras watching practically every London street corner, subways and buses, ATM machines, churches, sports stadiums, shopping malls, and, coming soon, cameras hidden inside garbage bins. (Seriously. In Dorset, they have plans to hide cameras in garbage bins to make sure you don’t put your garbage out on the wrong day, or at the wrong pickup time, or in the wrong place on the street. You can be fined up to £10,000 [$20,000] for some of these infractions.)

And they’re even trying out a new wrinkle: cameras with loudspeakers attached (“shouting cameras,” they call them.) So if a security camera catches you littering, an angry voice might demand that stop immediately.

Hire groups of older women to do this job, and you could wind up with your own mother shouting at you: “Nigel, I didn’t bring you up to be a slob! Pick up that litter and dispose of it properly.”

The amount of video surveillance footage collected in England will be astronomical – in the trillions of hours.

Which leads me to wonder: are there enough people in England to actually watch all the other people in England?

Perhaps this tedious job could be outsourced, so that millions of people in Bangladesh, say, could be gainfully employed to watch the random movement of millions of people in England.

With all this videotaping, it’s clear that everyone can become a TV star and, as Andy Warhol once said, have his or her 15-minutes of video fame. (Actually, with all those cameras filming round-the-clock, I figure that every Englishmen will have at least 24-36 hours of fame.)

A new art form, performances for surveillance cameras, has already begun: one theater company put on a play titled “It’s O.K., Officer,” in front of three police surveillance cameras in Bath. Another group performed a play called “God’s Eyes Here on Earth” for the enjoyment of surveillance cameras in front of a church.

Personally, I can’t wait for more video surveillance to come to New York.

I mean, who knows if DeNiro or Spielberg might wake up one morning and say to his people: “I need a new look...a fresh, interesting  face...have someone check out New York’s surveillance cameras and find me my next big star!”

Oh, did I mention privacy? Well, in this new “Video-cracy,” you won’t have any.

Some people may not care about their privacy, of course. But to them, I will say this:

Every security company in New York City, I’ve been told on good authority, has a special tape of what people do in their buildings’ elevators. These explicit videos, taken by hidden security cameras, could be titled “The Best Elevator Sex on the Upper East Side,” or “Debbie Does Downtown.”

In today’s world, you may already be a TV star and not even know it.

©2007 Peter Tannen