New York City Activists Project Giant, Roving Eyeball Onto The Verizon Building

U.S. telecommunications companies are in for some Big Brother branding, whether they like it or not.

Two months after protesters first settled in Zuccotti Park in the fall of 2011, something curious happened to the Verizon Building at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. On November 17, its monolithic façade lit up with what would be known as the Occupy Movement’s “bat signal,” a 99% sign thrown from a projection unit in someone’s apartment across the street.


On Monday night, the projection activists, known together as the Illuminator collective, turned their attention to the Verizon Building (which Verizon does not own–they would like us to point out–though they do occupy several floors and have their logo plastered in glowing letters on the side, leading to the building being colloquially referred to as “the Verizon building”) again. At around 9 p.m., they stamped it with a giant, wandering eyeball captioned with a message: “You are under surveillance.”


The Illuminator has used its projection tools–including a specially rigged van and cargo bike–for a variety of purposes after Occupy Wall Street informally disbanded. After the Boston Marathon bombings, the Illuminator projected “Brooklyn Loves Boston” onto the Brooklyn Academy of Music building. This past fall, the Illuminator projected an Evangeline Lilly-narrated short about National Security Agency surveillance onto a building next to Washington Square Park. In December, the collective also branded the Metropolitan Detention Center with the words “Free Jeremy Hammond,” in support of the jailed Anonymous hacktivist.

These days, the collective has almost exclusively shifted its focus to “the information industry” and issues of mass surveillance. Last night’s action is just one of several leading up to February 11, a day of protest with support from organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, BoingBoing, Reddit, and Mozilla. It’s also the anniversary of prolific programmer and activist Aaron Swartz’s death.

“The Verizon building is being used because it is a major player in NSA [mass surveillance],” Athena Soules, 34, an Illuminator organizer, says.

After Edward Snowden, the Guardian and the Washington Post unveiled that U.S. telecommunications companies had been secretly turning over vast amounts of phone metadata to the NSA by Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court orders, Verizon published a report earlier this year showing that it had received 321,545 requests from federal, state, and local authorities to fork over user data in 2013.


About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data