Spring 2021 - Tuesdays 6:00-10:00 ET

Surveillance Studies: Contemporary digital videos and The State CINE-GT 2836

Syllabus 2.41

(make sure you are viewing the latest version of the syllabus, which is always at

Instructor: Howard Besser         Office Hours via Zoom (sign up on the Office Hours google sheets, or email to schedule your slot): Tues 4:30-6:00 & at other times by appointment
Important links to Zoom addresses, online course books and films, etc. are in NYU Classes | Surveillance Studies | Resources | Important-Links

Note: All class sessions will be online in real-time (synchronous) via Zoom.

WARNING: The class will look at a number of disturbing short videos of violence at protests.

Course Description:  This graduate seminar will explore video, social network, and other technological developments employed by those advocating or demonstrating for social change and by state entities they may or may not confront. Objects of study will include cellphone videos of police misconduct, police bodycams, surveillance videos, "Karen" videos, drone videos, videos used to illustrate human rights violations, Smart Cities, etc.

The class will study the software and hardware development that made these possible, as well as how these digital objects circulate and become part of political discourse. The course will examine this type of digital object within broader issues of privacy, surveillance, policy, documentation, and how "ephemeral" videos can contribute to history. The class will also cover issues of archiving and preservation of this type of unedited material. Techniques such as facial recognition, gait recognition, artificial intelligence, and analysis of Big Data will also be explored. The class will also examine the ethical issues around circulation of these videos (such as the sensitivity of families of murder victims when explicit videos of the murder are screened before hundreds of thousands of people).

The class will include case studies of Black Lives Matter, the Occupy Movement, Smart Cities, and the surveillance of Uighur communities.

Required readings:  Only one full book and chapters from two other books are required, but there will be many shorter readings. Everything is available online:

 • Zimmer, Catherine (2015). Surveillance Cinema, NYU Press, DOI:10.18574/nyu/9781479864379.001.0001  (available online through NYU Scholarship Online or ProQuest E-Books Central.) We will read this entire book (though chapters 4 and 5 will be optional).
 • Doctorow, Cory (2021). How to Destory Surveillance Capitalism, Internet: OneZero Medium (available to read for free online, but with limited number of access times; E-Book or print edition available from the author). We will read the entire 146 page book.
Zuboff, Shoshana (2019). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, NY: PublicAffairs, DOI:10.1080/24701475.2019.1706138  (available online through ebscohost) We may or may not read one chapter of this book.
 • Ferguson, Andrew Guthrie (2017). The Rise of Big Data Policing: Surveillance, Race, and the Future of Law Enforcement, NYU Press (available online through ProQuest E-Books Central.) We will read two chapters of this book.


You will watch a variety of films on your own time schedule. The films are available through NYU Libraries Course Reserve under CINE-GT2836:
As a class, we may or may not watch these film or segments, but you are free to watch on your own:
       NYU Classes This learning management system may host some of the readings for the course . Access classes.nyu.edu with a valid NYU Net ID and password.  Readings that are not available on the open Web may be available in the "Documents and Readings" section of our NYU Classes site.  Note:  The list of required readings is always on your syllabus.  The syllabus should be your guide to what you need to do, and sometimes the links on the syllabus are to the latest versions of readings (where the NYU Classes site may contain older versions).  There may be readings on the NYU Classes site that are only recommended (not necessarily required).

Objectives:  After completing the course you should be able to  …

Requirements:  Course grades [A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D, F] will be determined by performance in the following areas.

Attendance and Participation (25%)  Attend all meetings of the course.  Participate actively in all discussions.  All assignments and readings will be listed on the syllabus on the date they are due, so be sure to scan ahead on the syllabus

Documenting Security Cameras (10%)  Choose a mall, a commercial or residential neighborhood, or a  large building. Find security cameras there and document where they are, whether or not they move, whether they cover all areas, etc. In 1-2 pages of text, speculate why they are there, and what would happen to you if you were to take photographs of the cameras or ask security staff questions about who was watching the cameras and how long they keep the recordings. DO NOT actually take photos of the cameras or ask questions about camera monitoring unless you both live in the US and you are willing to take risks (like having someone call security authorities, or being kicked out of the building). Turn in both a written version of this, and give a short oral report to the class. Due Feb 23.

Present video  (5%)  Find a video of a police action, a protest, or surveillance. Present this video to the class along with your analysis about the video from the perspectives of policy, access, ethics, etc. Should the video have been made public? Who is helped by the existence of the video and who is harmed?  Should this video be widely accessible? Should it be preserved as part of the historical record? (and if so, who should be responsible for preserving it?) Due Mar 9.

Either Sub-topical Summary or Summary of Global Uprisings webinar and webpage  (10%)    Due Mar 23. Do just one of these:

Present a book to the class  (10%)  Read at least 1/3 of a book on surveillance, artificial intelligence, privacy, facial recognition, policy & ethics, etc. Present a 10-minute oral-only summary of the book to the rest of the class, along with a series of questions for class discussion. Below are books you could choose from, or suggest a different one to the instructor. Due in April.

Paper/Project Proposal  (5%)  A proposal for your final paper or project, including preliminary list of sources and a summary of what you intend to do and how you intend to do it.  (2-4 pages--can be less if you've discussed the topic extensively with the instructor). 

Individual Final project  (35%)  A substantive, in-depth, individual project or paper. (Most papers will be approximately 15 pages long, but this depends on your topic and approach. Length will be negotiated in response to your paper/project proposal.) This project or paper could be an expansion of one of your previous assignments. This project will have a written component (due the last day of class), plus you will be graded on your class presentation of your project during the final class session. Class presentations will be 10-15 min, with an additional 3-5 min for questions/comments. (You will be cut off at 15 min; do not go any longer than that!)


Tu Feb 2  Introduction to course (week 1)

Topics covered:

Tu Feb 9 Cinema as Surveillance  (week 2)

Assignments due before class:
Topics covered in class:

Tu Feb 16  First Person Cameras, Compulsion to Document, Cinema as Forensic Evidence (week 3)

Assignments due before class:
Topics covered in class:

Tu Feb 23  Surveillance of Public Spaces, Social Media (week 4)

Assignments due before class:
Topics covered in class:

Tu Mar 2  Vast Deployment of Digital Cameras: Drones, Street Cams, SpyCams, Police BodyCams, Software  (week 5)

Assignments due before class:
Watch: Poitras' Citizen Four, 113 min (2014)
Watch: Peeping' drones spying on people in St. Louis, KSDK News, May 3, 2018 (3 min)
Watch: How Peeping Drones Could Be Spying On You Without You Knowing It, Today Show, May 9, 2018 (4 min)
Watch: Interview on Surveillance and AI with Kade Crockford (ACLU Massachusetts), Jan 3, 2020 (20 min)
Listen to: Jon Fasman, Surveillance & Local Police: How Technology Is Evolving Faster Than Regulation, Fresh Air, Jan 27, 2021 (49 min)
Read: End Two Federal Programs that Fund Police Surveillance Tech, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Jan 25, 2021
Read: Drones. AI. Bodycams. Is Technology Making Us Safer?, Government Technology, 2019
Topics covered in class:

Tu Mar 9 Turning Cameras Against State Actors (1), Public Circulation of Digital Videos (week 6)

Assignments due before class:
Present a digital video (of protest, confrontation, or surveillance) to the class (see Assignments)
Watch: Stone' Snowden, 134 min (2016)
Topics covered in class:

Tu Mar 16 Dealing with massive amounts of Surveillance data (week 7)

Assignments due before class:

Watch: Kantayya's Coded Bias, 90 min (2020)
Topics covered in class:

Tu Mar 23  Turning Cameras Against State Actors (2) Adding to Public Discourse and to the Historical Record:

Case Studies of Black Lives Matter, Occupy Movement, Arab Spring, Human Rights (week 8)

Assignments due before class:
Topics covered in class:

Tu Mar 30 Landlord Surveillance [Guest Erin McElroy, NYU AI Now Institute], Surveillance Capitalism (week 9)

Assignments due before class:
Look over these websites
Topics covered in class:

Tu Apr 6  Karen Videos; Ethics of Watching; Case Study: Police BodyCams | Guest Snowden Becker (week 10)

Assignments due before class:
2 student book summaries
Read (or look over):
Topics covered in class:

Tu Apr 13  Journalism in the Age of Cellphone Video, Journalistic reconstructions; review of Human Rights from Mar 23 | Guest Haley Willis, NY Times (week 11)

Assignments due before class:
student book summary
Topics covered in class:

Tu Apr 20  Case Study: Surveillance of Uighur Communities, "predictive policing"  (week 12)

Assignments due before class:
student book summary
Watch Spielberg's Minority Report, 145 min (2002)
Watch: Mass Rapes. Sweeping Surveillance. Forced Labor. Exposing China’s Crackdown on Uyghur Muslims, Democracy Now, Feb 4, 2021 (20 min)
Topics covered in class:

Tu Apr 27  Private Sector joins State Surveillance--Case Study: Smart Cities, Smart Homes--Guests Maria Esteva [?and Sharon Strover] (week 13)

Assignments due before class:
Topics covered in class:

Tu May 4  Final Classroom Presentations (week 14)

Assignments due before class:
Topics covered in class:


Standard Language Required for CS Syllabi


Tisch Policy on Academic Integrity
The core of the educational experience at the Tisch School of the Arts is the creation of original work by students for the critical review of faculty members.  Any attempt to evade that essential transaction through plagiarism or cheating is educationally self-defeating and a grave violation of Tisch’s community standards. Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s original work as if it were your own; cheating is an attempt to deceive a faculty member into believing that your mastery of a subject or discipline is greater than it really is. Penalties for violations of Tisch’s Academic Integrity Policy may range from being required to redo an assignment to dismissal from the School. For more information on the policy--including academic integrity resources, investigation procedures, and penalties--please refer to the Policies and Procedures Handbook (tisch.nyu.edu/student-affairs/important-resources/tisch-policies-and-handbooks) on the website of the Tisch Office of Student Affairs.

Health & Wellness Resources
Your health and safety are a priority at NYU.  If you experience any health or mental health issues during this course, we encourage you to utilize the support services of the 24/7 NYU Wellness Exchange 212-443-9999.  Also, all students who may require an academic accommodation due to a qualified disability, physical or mental, please register with the Moses Center 212-998-4980. Please let your instructor know if you need help connecting to these resources. Students may also contact Department Chair Anna McCarthy
anna.mccarthy@nyu.edu and/or Administrative Director Ken Sweeney kcs1@nyu.edu for help connecting to resources.

Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence, and Stalking Policy & Reporting Procedures
NYU seeks to maintain a safe learning, living, and working environment. To that end, sexual misconduct, including sexual or gender-based harassment, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation, are prohibited. Relationship violence, stalking, and retaliation against an individual for making a good faith report of sexual misconduct are also prohibited. These prohibited forms of conduct are emotionally and physically traumatic and a violation of one’s rights. They are unlawful, undermine the character and purpose of NYU, and will not be tolerated. A student or employee determined by NYU to have committed an act of prohibited conduct is subject to disciplinary action, up to and including separation from NYU. Students are encouraged to consult the online
Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence, and Stalking Resource Guide for Students (nyu.edu/about/policies-guidelines-compliance/policies-and-guidelines/sexual-misconduct--relationship-violence--and-stalking-resource-.html) for detailed information about on-campus and community support services, resources, and reporting procedures. Students are also welcome to report any concerns to Department Chair Anna McCarthy anna.mccarthy@nyu.edu and/or Administrative Director Ken Sweeney kcs1@nyu.edu for help connecting to resources.

NYU Title IX Policy
Tisch School of the Arts to dedicated to providing its students with a learning environment that is rigorous, respectful, supportive and nurturing so that they can engage in the free exchange of ideas and commit themselves fully to the study of their discipline. To that end Tisch is committed to enforcing University policies prohibiting all forms of sexual misconduct as well as discrimination on the basis of sex and gender.  Detailed information regarding these policies and the resources that are available to students through the Title IX office can be found by using the
this link. https://www.nyu.edu/about/policies-guidelines-compliance/equal-opportunity/title9.html

Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy & Reporting Procedures
NYU is committed to equal treatment and opportunity for its students and to maintaining an environment that is free of bias, prejudice, discrimination, and harassment. Prohibited discrimination includes adverse treatment of any student based on race, gender and/or gender identity or expression, color, religion, age, national origin, ethnicity, disability, veteran or military status, sexual orientation, marital status, or citizenship status, rather than on the basis of his/her individual merit. Prohibited harassment is unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on race, gender and/or gender identity or expression, color, religion, age, national origin, ethnicity, disability, veteran or military status, sexual orientation, marital status, or citizenship status. Prohibited discrimination and harassment undermine the character and purpose of NYU and may violate the law. They will not be tolerated. NYU strongly encourages members of the University Community who have been victims of prohibited discrimination or prohibited harassment to report the conduct. MIAP students may make such reports to Department Chair Anna McCarthy anna.mccarthy@nyu.edu and/or Administrative Director Ken Sweeney kcs1@nyu.edu for help connecting to resources, or directly to Marc Wais, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs. Students should refer to the University’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy and Complaint Procedures (nyu.edu/about/policies-guidelines-compliance/policies-and-guidelines/non-discrimination-and-anti-harassment-policy-and-complaint-proc.html) for detailed information about on-campus and community support services, resources, and reporting procedures.

NYU Guidelines for Compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) was enacted to protect the privacy of students' education records, to establish the rights of students to inspect and review their education records, and to provide students with an opportunity to have inaccurate or misleading information in their education records corrected. In general, personally identifiable information from a student's education records, including grades, may not be shared without a student’s written consent. However, such consent is not needed for disclosure of such information between school officials with legitimate educational interests, which includes any University employee acting within the scope of their University employment. See here (nyu.edu/about/policies-guidelines-compliance/policies-and-guidelines/FERPA.html) for full policy guidelines.

NYU Student Religious Observance Policy
See here for the University Calendar Policy on Religious Holidays.

NYU Academic Support Services
NYU offers a wide range of academic support services to help students with research, writing, study skills, learning disability accommodation, and more. Here is a brief summary:
NYU Libraries
Main Site:
library.nyu.edu; Ask A Librarian: library.nyu.edu/ask
70 Washington Square S, New York, NY 10012
Staff at NYU Libraries has prepared a guide (http://guides.nyu.edu/c.php?g=276579&p=1844806) covering services and resources of particular relevance to graduate students. These include research services and guides by topic area, subject specialists, library classes, individual consultations, data services, and more. There's also a range of study spaces, collaborative work spaces, and media rooms at Bobst, the library's main branch.

The Writing Center

411 Lafayette, 4th Floor, 212-998-8860, writingcenter@nyu.edu

The Writing Center is open to all NYU students. There, students can meet with a faculty writing consultant or a senior peer tutor at any stage of the writing process, about any piece of writing (except exams). Appointments can be scheduled online. Students for whom English is a second language can get additional help with their writing through a monthly workshop series scheduled by the Writing Center (cas.nyu.edu/content/nyu-as/cas/ewp/writing-resources/rise-workshops.html).

The University Learning Center (ULC)
nyu.edu/ulc; Academic Resource Center (18 Washington Pl, 212-998-8085) or University Hall (110 East 14th St, 212-998-9047)

Peer Writing Support: All students may request peer support on their writing during drop-in tutoring hours for "Writing the Essay / General Writing" at the University Learning Center (ULC), which has two locations noted above. Students for whom English is a second language may wish to utilize drop-in tutoring geared towards international student writers (see schedule for "International Writing Workshop").

Academic Skills Workshops: The ULC's Lunchtime Learning Series: Academic Skills Workshops focus on building general skills to help students succeed at NYU. Skills covered can help with work in a variety of courses. Workshops are kept small and discuss topics include proofreading, close reading to develop a thesis, study strategies, and more. All Lunchtime Learning Series workshops are run by Peer Academic Coaches. 


Moses Center for Students with Disabilities

726 Broadway, 3rd Floor, 212-998-4980, mosescsd@nyu.edu

All students who may require an academic accommodation due to a qualified disability, physical or mental, are encouraged to register with the Moses Center. The Moses Center’s mission is to facilitate equal access to programs and services for students with disabilities and to foster independent decision making skills necessary for personal and academic success. The Moses Center determines qualified disability status and assists students in obtaining appropriate accommodations and services. To obtain a reasonable accommodation, students must register with the Moses Center (visit the Moses Center website for instructions).