Spy “security” cameras at the 2012 RNC in Tampa

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I live in downtown Tampa and the 2012 Republican National Convention is taking place here this August. The city has seen a lot of public works project in advance, mostly beautification , but also some infrastructure. Good infrastructure like improved cell networks (LTE here is fast), but also bad infrastructure like a mesh network of spy cameras (or CCTV if you’re working for the man). I have seen the installation happen and it started by mounting antennas all over the downtown area. Seeing workers isn’t unusual here, but each of these installations was conspicuous because of a Tampa Police Department car parked by the cherry picker. Very strange to need a cop to watch someone mount an antenna, let alone dozens of antennas.

It’s a Saturday today and I was out for a walk and saw the familiar seen of someone in a cherry picker and a TPD cruiser looking over. This particular corner had an antenna installed weeks before (and I had taken pictures then too, curious about the specifics of the antennas), so I figured the camera portion was getting added today. I watched for about 15 seconds and noticed that the worker at the top was looking back at me. Strange, but there’s not much to distract yourself with up there so I didn’t think much of it. Then I took out my phone and snapped a picture. This set the worker off, he started yelling at me and then yelling “he took a picture, go get him!” to the cop. It’s a hot day and the deputy was inside his car, so I assume it took a bit for him to respond because I continued walking and was not interrupted. During my walk I made sure to upload the photo just in case I got in contact with an officer who had a less than perfect legal mind.

I grabbed a drink and then on my walk back decided to get another look, this time from across a fenced and barricaded street from another unrelated beautification project. He caught on quickly and yelled again, saying that I was a “piece of trash” and then yelling to the cop who was now out and about. The worker’s perch let him give updates to the cop, but again I was able to walk away without being interrupted.

I want to know what’s going on. We all know there will be spy cameras in downtown Tampa because of the RNC. We all have eyes and can see where they are. The antennas are large and noticeable, even an untrained eye can spot them. This was a public street and there was no way to know that photography was prohibited, even though the law there is dubious at best (I was in public, surrounded by people and taking a picture of a light pole which will remain fully visible for years).

When citizens complain about spy cameras, the response is frequently if you’re not doing anything to hide, you have nothing to fear. Or that they will just be used to solve crimes. It’s not very encouraging that they are already suppressing freedoms during the installation of these private eyes in the sky. The city has given millions of dollars to Aware Digital for apparent goons to install cameras that invade all of our privacy. Even St Petersburg has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for CCTV during the RNC even though they aren’t hosting it. Governments use things like this as an excuse to get the toys they could never justify previously. The RNC is in and out in a week, we’re stuck with big brother for ever.

When they began installing the equipment, I took these photos. I didn’t know they would come in handy later.

Finally, since they apparently have something to hide, here’s a little bit about what cameras are being installe. The main contract is to Aware Digital, a creepy sounding Miami based company with nearly no web presence (coming soon, @2006) and Orwellian employment practices. They’re wireless and run on a custom built wireless mesh network. Officers can access the live video from mobile devices, ensuring future citizens will have to walk faster than I did. The contract is for about 60 cameras, which should cover a large amount of downtown. Their contract stated it needed to be up by July 1, which would explain why they were working today (June 30). Exact specifications of the cameras are hard to pin down, with people saying different things. City council types love to think they have classified intelligence and both boast and understate. Aware Digital spoke a little more about the system they had for Superbowl XLIV in Miami. That was two and a half years ago, so we’re likely a lot more sophisticated but they had HD pan/tilt/zoom cameras with 10x optical zoom. Not too shabby.

Update: It’s Monday and I was walking by the county courthouse and saw the familiar scene of a squad car and cherry picker. Low and behold it was the same Aware Digital goon. Unbelievably, out of the mass of people at lunch time around the busy courthouse he spotted me before I took a photo. I then snapped a picture as he yelled to a cop, “I knew it, there he is!”. What is going on?

Update 2: I have started a Google Map to track the locations of all these CCTV cameras. If you have spotted a camera that isn’t on the map, please get in touch.

Update 3: I got bored and made this data into a mobile friendly web app for use around Downtown during the convention: RNCCTV.

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6 Responses to “Spy “security” cameras at the 2012 RNC in Tampa”

  1. Danielle Blick says:

    The fact that he spot you twice on separate occasions is alarming. I love that he feels antagonized and no one has any idea why.

  2. TamPanic says:

    Hey, found your blog while posting to mine. You should mark the spot where the Ice Palace is on your map so people can get some point of reference to how wide ranged these cameras are. I’ve linked to your blog as well.

    • JG says:

      I’d rather keep it to just the RNC CCTV cameras. The mapping data is going to be used to power a mobile app for identifying the cameras as you’re walking around Tampa. Google already identifies landmarks like the Forum anyway.

    • Adrienne says:

      Just heard you on NPR, well said Jon, I appreciate yr vigilance. I won’t vent my disgust with the cameras and our local police slash elected officials, just leave it at thanks and much respect to you sir.

  3. Awaresux says:

    I totally agree. Aware Digital totally sucks. They are so illegal it isnt even a joke. That little man they have as an owner is the most undesirable person around and the goonies he has as managers follow his every wish. But I know they will have their day in court.

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