They emerged in profusion seemingly overnight, like mushrooms after a good rain — if mushrooms could grow upside down. From ceiling tiles. And monitor your every movement.
When the security cameras first appeared in the newsroom of The Times not long ago, it was natural to assume the worst. “They” were onto us: Someone had used company equipment to print out Springsteen tickets. Surely it was only a matter of time until Phish Reunion Tour tickets hit the printer tray — and management would pounce.
Still, there was something odd about the timing.
It came just weeks after our Opinion section began an ambitious series of stories on the growing threat to privacy in the digital age. A stable of writers have weighed in for The Privacy Project, chronicling the many disturbing ways we have ceded intimate personal information voluntarily and the many ways it is being taken from us without our permission.
Could those cameras discreetly dotting the ceiling tiles have been part of an experiment? Maybe the folks in Opinion wanted to chronicle how people would react to the introduction of workplace surveillance in real time. And not just any people: reporters and editors, who like to think of themselves as troublemakers.
As it turns out, though, sometimes a security camera is just a security camera. In a little-noticed memo to the staff, The Times’s new security chief had announced that the company was installing cameras throughout the building.
The note mentioned doorways and corridors. But by the time the mushrooms were done being planted, they were seemingly everywhere, including the work spaces where hundreds of Times employees perch at keyboards, writing, editing and — at least until the cameras started peering over our shoulders — doing the occasional shopping, date-seeking and cat-video research.
In announcing the cameras, the company said they were being installed in part to “shorten incident response time.”
Ah. That. The thing too scary to talk about in anything but a whisper.
We may not all have experienced moments where survival depended on shortening “response time.” But the idea has become an all-too-familiar part of our work. The concert in Las Vegas. The mosques in Christchurch. The cafes and nightclubs in Paris. The school in Parkland. The temple in Pittsburgh. And yes, that newsroom in Annapolis.
Given all that, who could be against a measure taken in the name of safety?
The note about the cameras even offered some reassurances. The footage, it said, will be stored locally, not on the cloud.
And after all, really, what’s a few dozen more cameras? All of us are already videotaped endlessly on our trek to and from the office. On sidewalks and in restaurants. In waiting rooms and in the park. At the theater. In the lobby of this building. In the elevators. And now in the newsroom.
Writing in The Privacy Project, Kara Swisher, a Times contributing Opinion writer, summed up the response of many in the tech industry to people who lament the boundless incursions into their private lives: “Get over it!”
“I don’t intend to,” she wrote, “and I don’t think anyone else should, either.”
Ms. Swisher was talking about corporate data snatchers, but it’s pretty good advice all around.
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Again and again, people who are scared show a reluctance to question measures taken in the name of security, even when they strike some as excessive, or even senseless. After the Sept. 11 attacks, people lined up dutifully at newly installed metal detectors to enter a skating rink in Central Park — never mind that they then went outside to skate in open view.
The new cameras at The Times were not, in the end, a Privacy Project experiment. But you may still be wondering how all those supposed troublemakers here reacted.
Early footage presumably shows an employee roaming the newsroom, accosting colleagues seemingly at random and pointing dramatically at the ceiling. He was seen in BizDay. In National. In Politics and Science.
That would be me. I was on the hunt for outrage. I was waiting for the pitchforks and torches to emerge.