Protesters from the group Camover in Germany destroy CCTV cameras. The vigilante group wants to see all surveillance cameras removed from public spaces, and are taking matters into their own hands, by taking down as many cameras as possible ahead of February’s European Police Congress.
Game to destroy CCTV cameras: vandalism or valid protest?
As a youth in a ski mask marches down a Berlin U-Bahn train, dressed head-to-toe in black, commuters may feel their only protection is the ceiling-mounted CCTV camera nearby. But he is not interested in stealing wallets or iPhones – he is after the camera itself. This is Camover, a new game being played across Berlin, which sees participants trashing cameras in protest against the rise in close-circuit television across Germany.
The game is real-life Grand Theft Auto for those tired of being watched by the authorities in Berlin; points are awarded for the number of cameras destroyed and bonus scores are given for particularly imaginative modes of destruction. Axes, ropes and pitchforks are all encouraged.
The rules of Camover are simple: mobilise a crew and think of a name that starts with “command”, “brigade” or “cell”, followed by the moniker of a historical figure (Van der Lubbe, a Dutch bricklayer convicted of setting fire to the Reichstag in 1933, is one name being used). Then destroy as many CCTV cameras as you can. Concealing your identity, while not essential, is recommended. Finally, video your trail of destruction and post it on the game’s website – although even keeping track of the homepage can be a challenge in itself, as it is continually being shut down.
The use of surveillance cameras has become a thorny political issue in Germany. Inadequate CCTV footage was highlighted in the investigation of a bomb scare in Bonn last December (“Germans consider Brit-style CCTV,” shouted Der Spiegel). This, along with the brutal killing of a man in Berlin’s busy Alexanderplatz square in October 2012 spurred the interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, to call for “efficient video surveillance and video recording in public areas”.
For those who oppose CCTV, petitions and letters only go so far in the German capital. A group of 40 protesters walked the streets of Berlin for 1984 Action Day (protests against CCTV cameras and other surveillance, named after the novel by George Orwell) in June and pressure group Control Berlin has screened short films documenting CCTV’s rise. But Camover’s direct-action approach revolves around a small but committed group who call themselves “workless people – we are shoplifters, graffiti sprayers, homeless and squatters”. They claim to have snuffed out as many as 50 cameras since the game began a few weeks ago.
“We thought it would motivate inactive people out there if we made a video-invitation to this reality-game,” the creator of Camover (who wanted to remain anonymous) told me. “Although we call it a game, we are quite serious about it: our aim is to destroy as many cameras as possible and to have an influence on video surveillance in our cities.”
The winner of the game does not get a trophy or a year’s supply of spray paint. The competition ends on 19 February, to coincide with the start of the European Police Congress. The prize, says Camover, is to be in the frontline of a protest that will take place three days earlier, on 16 February. The location has yet to be confirmed, but Camover advises anyone who turns up to “crouch to avoid the flying cameras”.