On the lookout

Surveillance has become a fact of life


One noteworthy aspect of recent initiatives to introduce more cameras in this part of the city — from security cameras at the Marble Hill Houses to speed cameras outside the Robert J. Christen School (P.S. 81) — is how normal it is to set up the monitoring devices.

City Council Public Housing Committee Chairman Ritchie Torres is pushing for cameras in every NYCHA development in the city. He has followed the same arguments as councilmen here, who touted security benefits of cameras at Marble Hill with no reference to the question of their intrusiveness upon the hundreds of residents who now come and go beneath the cameras every day.

Similarly, state Sen. Co-Majority Leader Jeff Klein, two consecutive transportation commissioners and other top officials have pushed for cameras that catch speeders in school zones. No one seems to have publicly raised any questions about the security of the data the cameras are collecting. The city has not divulged how the Department of Transportation deploys the mobile cameras, saying the idea is to catch drivers by surprise, but other details about how the cameras work are murky, too.

Perhaps most telling, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is no longer on the case. While the group is currently pursuing records on how the city, state and NYPD use data collected by E-ZPass readers, the watchdog has seemingly dropped the surveillance camera issue.

In 1998, the NYCLU launched its NYC Surveillance Camera Project to document the number of cameras in Manhattan. Teams of volunteers fanned out across the city and compiled a map pinpointing as many cameras as they could find in stores, alleyways, high rises and other sites. They eventually found 2,397 devices, while acknowledging they had likely missed many.

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