Summary: With New York planning to put in another 3,000 surveillance cameras and monitor all license plates coming into the island of Manhattan at 20 entrances with its Operation Sentinel, travelers and residents should not only get over any indignation at being snooped on to this extent by police, in their neighborhood(s). They instead should get with the program.
With New York planning to put in another 3,000 surveillance cameras and monitor all license plates coming into the island of Manhattan at 20 entrances with its Operation Sentinel, travelers and residents should not only get over any indignation at being snooped on to this extent by police, in their neighborhood(s). They instead should get with the program.
So says no less an authority than lawyer Norman Siegel, who was director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, from 1985 to 2000.
Let’s back up here, first. Surveillance cameras have been a hot spot, so to speak, with New York residents since at least 1998. That’s when 11 secret cameras were discovered in Washington Square Park, unbeknownst to those who frequented it. The cameras had a social purpose though: To clean out drug dealing.
Fast forward to 2006. The New York Civil Liberties Union issued a report that showed a massive growth in surveillance cameras around the city. Thousands upon thousands.
Here’s a comparison showing the growth of public and private cameras in different parts of the city, from that report:
And here’s how they looked, dotted around Lower Manhattan, where the 3,000 new police cameras are apparently slated to go.
At that time the NYCLU report stated:
“There is, however, a growing body of evidence that indicates the proliferation of video surveillance technology is undermining fundamental rights of privacy, speech, expression and association.”
So it is interesting to see in the space of two more years, the former head of the NYCLU come out four-square last week for citizens to arm themselves – with their own video cameras. To become proactive with the camera phones or digital cameras they carry around.
Siegel, you see, now counts Critical Mass among his clients as an independent attorney.
This is a loosely organized group of bicycle riders that have caused varying degrees of traffic disruption and confrontations with police officers over the years, particularly in the last four.
One police officer recently was caught on camera phone knocking a Critical Mass cyclist off his bike, during a July ride. The officer had sworn that the cyclist ran into him and was disrupting vehicular movement. Neither was the case, as the citizen-held camera showed.
That led to a protest on the walk in front of One Police Plaza that tied that act of police disrespect to a host of cases of police brutality, as reported here.
And this is where Siegel and other community activists said all citizens should now arm themselves this way – as a check on police statements and, in logical extension, as a counterbalance to police surveillance.
Citizens’ own surveillance of public protests and activities “changes the dynamic” with police, Siegel said. “No longer can the police officer swear out a complaint that says A, B and C and the video shows X, Y, Z.”
People’s own cameras, for instance, will surely outnumber those of the police. Roughly 600 million camera phones were sold worldwide last year; that number should hit 1 billion a year, soon.
And the public is already being invited to do its own snooping on public locales. There are worldwide directories of webcams that any citizen can hook into at any time, from Trafalgar Square in London to Times Square in New York City to downtown Tokyo.
These will only get more numerous, more precise and more observant, changing the dynamic further. And the New York Police are hardly at the head of the pack on installing cameras, to start with. Londoners and their visitors are watched by roughly 4.2 million cameras.
Police cameras aren’t going to go away. So, when you’re about to head into Manhattan or any other public space, check your pocket or purse and make sure your camera is in there.
Don’t leave home without it.
NYPD Surveillance Camera photo from Pro-Zak on Flicker