Monday, July 09, 2007

Eyes on the City

(Michael Reeve)
New York is planning to use thousands of surveillance cameras and license plate readers to track people in lower Manhattan (below Canal). Privacy issues are raised by the NYTimes article linked above as is the fact that even the conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation, admits that surveillance cameras haven't been shown to deter crime and terrorism.

The article also states that thousands of surveillance cameras are already in use in lower Manhattan. They are used without oversight. Get that, the government is already monitoring its citizens without oversight. From the article:

...The police and corporate security agents will work together in the center, said Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the police. The plan does not need City Council approval, he said.

The Police Department is still considering whether to use face-recognition technology, an inexact science that matches images against those in an electronic database, or biohazard detectors in its Lower Manhattan network, Mr. Browne said.

The entire operation is forecast to be in place and running by 2010, in time for the projected completion of several new buildings in the financial district, including the new Goldman Sachs world headquarters.

Civil liberties advocates said they were worried about misuse of technology that tracks the movement of thousands of cars and people,

Would this mean that every Wall Street broker, every tourist munching a hot dog near the United States Court House and every sightseer at ground zero would constantly be under surveillance?

“This program marks a whole new level of police monitoring of New Yorkers and is being done without any public input, outside oversight, or privacy protections for the hundreds of thousands of people who will end up in N.Y.P.D. computers," Christopher Dunn, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, wrote in an e-mail message.

He said he worried about what would happen to the images once they were archived, how they would be used by the police and who else would have access to them.

Already, according to a report last year by the civil liberties group, there are nearly 4,200 public and private surveillance cameras below 14th Street, a fivefold increase since 1998, with virtually no oversight over what becomes of the recordings.

Mr. Browne said that the Police Department would have control over how the material is used. He said that the cameras would be recording in “areas where there’s no expectation of privacy” and that law-abiding citizens had nothing to fear.
Yes, don't worry that city council, the part of the government elected by the people, doesn't have control over the program or its expansion, instead console yourself from the loss of privacy by repeating the mantra, "I don't need to worry if I've done nothing wrong."

A frightening aspect not directly addressed by the article is that corporate security services are a large part of current and planned surveillance operations. I understand the desire to have private corporations help with the cost of security, but that's what taxes are for. How is giving corporations free reign to collect and analyze data on free citizens a good thing? Seriously, how is trading civil rights and democracy for corporatism a good thing?

Big brother is here with an expensive suite, a bright smile, and a firm handshake.