Insecurity Cameras | The Nation


Insecurity Cameras

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

"I do think that in this day and age, if you think that cameras aren't watching you, you are very naïve," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in October during a tour of London's massive surveillance-camera system. "We are under surveillance all the time. We live in a dangerous world and people want to have security cameras." Bloomberg added that everyone he had met in London was "thrilled" about the security cameras around the city. Regardless of how "thrilled" New Yorkers are about the security such cameras provide, Bloomberg has given them more than they realize, and recently announced plans to place many more in sites around the city. "Bloomberg came back from London camera-happy," said Brown.

About the Author

William Pentland
William Pentland is a fall 2007 Nation intern.

Also by the Author

A plan to implant farm animals with electronic tracking tags gives corporate agriculture a monopoly on the future of food, and it has sparked political backlash in rural America.

Since 9/11, law enforcement agencies have added scores of surveillance cameras to the thousands of cameras that already covered much of New York City's public housing developments, streets, bridges and tunnels. Nearly 400 MTA buses now carry sophisticated surveillance cameras. In addition, a fast-growing number of subway stations have so-called "passenger identification systems" that record images of everyone who passes through a turnstile or entrance gate. Like London's system, these new cameras will ultimately feed into a centralized "watcher's booth" where a range of computer programs will process them and alert law enforcement officers about potential dangers.

New York City already uses cameras that automatically ticket drivers who ignore red lights. In addition, Lower Manhattan already has at least one camera that records license plates and feeds the information into a central database that alerts the NYPD when a suspicious car or truck is in the area, the New York Daily News recently reported.

In August 2005, the MTA awarded a $212 million contract to Lockheed Martin to deploy "smart camera" systems in subway and train stations in New York City. "If you have people viewing cameras, it is like watching TV--they will get tired and you don't know if they are going to miss something," an MTA security official, William Morange, told Congressional Quarterly in March. "Smart cameras" claim to eliminate the need for human monitors by using cutting-edge software that can interpret video streams and detect suspicious behavior.

"It doesn't matter whether its corn or cars or surveillance cameras, this is the business of the day," said Brown. "The same companies that put up cameras in Baghdad put up cameras on Wall Street." Lockheed Martin is only one of many major military contractors cashing in on New York City's surveillance bonanza. Northrop Grumman, which won a $500 million contract last year to create a secure high-speed wireless network for city agencies, installed the camera in Lower Manhattan that reads license plates. In October, the NYPD awarded a $9 million contract to NICE Systems, an Israel-based technology company, to design the city's next generation of emergency call centers, as part of the largest public safety project on record. The new call centers will integrate telephony, web, e-mail, radio, video and other data sources to capture, manage, analyze and reconstruct multimedia incidents.

"The cameras are supposed to make us feel happy, but they're actually making us feel creepy, because we don't know who's watching or why," said Brown, as he pointed out a cluster of cameras hanging on a lamppost near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. "No camera is innocent until you know who is watching." These days, the watchers are more elusive than ever. In the wake of 9/11, local and federal government agencies scrambled to expand the scope of surveillance in New York City by orders of magnitude. The blitz resulted in a series of bureaucratic alliances and turf battles that has made it nearly impossible to identify who controls which cameras.

"I'm not a technophobe or a primitivist or any other type of Luddite that happens to be in fashion," said Brown. "I just don't believe in the silver bullet of technology. As you get more scientifically advanced, you solve some problems but create new ones. There have been three generations of cameras installed in New York City. Each generation has tried to solve the problems created by the one that came before it, but have ended up creating a whole new set of problems themselves. People and policy solve problems, technology only makes them worse. Cameras manage symptoms rather than solving problems."

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.