No Surveillance State Month, Part 25: Local Big Brother

In 2006, I accepted a contract to work as a technical consultant for the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Division. I soon found out that I was to be working on a project known as the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, which was, at the time, a fairly reasonable security measure: link together the cameras near the stock exchange, a sensitive, non-residential area of downtown Manhattan, for monitoring by the police. We built them a beautiful operations center to do just that, and my contract ended. [Note: While my contract required non-disclosure, all of the information posted herein can be found by searching through news reports. The NYPD is quite proud of their surveillance.]

Of course, fast forward, and the NYPD has now persuaded dozens of private building owners in lower Manhattan to send them 1,000+ camera feeds and has expanded the project to midtown, an area significantly more residential. With the midtown project likely completed, the NYPD would now have 3,000 cameras accessible to them in their command center, giving them the ability to follow you around the city as you travel on foot. These cameras are, of course, recorded, so that the police can go back in time (allegedly for 30 days) to watch you walk around the city. This was especially useful for watching “hot chicks,” whom the officers would regularly review for “suspicious activity.”

New York is not alone. London actually did it first, and you can expect that many large cities have implemented some form of centralized camera monitoring. Many don’t have a problem with it: you’re in public, after all. But personally, I find it a bit creepy that the city can not only watch me live, but go back in time and watch me. Add this to the subway cameras, and you can track someone pretty much the entire time they’re outside.

What to do?

Well, awareness is half the battle. Know that the camera attached to the deli across the street may not be just to watch to make sure you didn’t steal a bag of Cheetos, but may be the police state keeping tabs on you. The rest of the battle is fighting these initiatives when they are proposed. What seemed like a fairly innocuous proposal to watch the financial centers has now expanded, and surely will continue to expand. Be aware that every “reasonable” tool will be twisted until it is nothing like the original.

This is one of a 30-part series, “No Surveillance State Month,” where daily for the month of June I’ll be posting ways to avoid invasion of your privacy in the digital age. The intent of these posts is not to enable one to escape detection while engaging in criminal activity — there’s still the old-fashioned “send a detective to watch you” for which these posts will not help. Rather, this series will help you to opt-out of the en masse collection of data by the government and large corporations that places Americans in databases without their knowing and freely-given consent for indefinite time periods. We all have the right to privacy, and I hope you demand it.

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