Privacy SOS

“Inside NYPD Anti-Terror Command Center” leaves out key details

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The NYPD must be very grateful for this news clip advertising its "Lower Manhattan Security Initiative." The surveillance center works to keep New Yorkers safe, reports CBS 2 News New York — without once mentioning any of the obvious downsides of living under the eternally watchful eye of the increasingly technology obsessed surveillance state. Instead of raising these thorny privacy issues, the nearly two minute clip is an homage to technology-driven policing that would make Ray Kelly's pressman proud.

If there's one problem with the system, according to the report, it's that Midtown Manhattan doesn't have enough cameras. That statement only makes sense in the context of Lower Manhattan, which is drowning in thousands of public and private cameras — most of them looped in to the NYPD surveillance center. What Pablo Guzmán of CBS 2 News fails to mention is the reason why the financial district around Wall Street is so flush with surveillance, or why the surveillance complex depicted in the video exists in the first place.

He might have left that history out of the story because hot off of the Occupy movement's popular call for accountability on Wall Street, many New Yorker's wouldn't like the answer.

In fact, the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative was created as a joint venture between the New York police and Wall Street's largest financial firms, and is staffed by private employees from those banks and institutions. Private security officers who take paychecks from JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs sit alongside uniformed NYPD officers to monitor not simply "suspicious bags" left on street corners (helpfully identified by the system's video analytics) or the license plates and identities of motorists, but also presumably the protesters banging pots and pans on the streets, condemning the greed of the one percent and the collusion between the NYPD and the big banks.

The bankers' security people also have access to the city's most massive surveillance effort yet. But the clip doesn't mention the NYPD-Microsoft collaboration on the Orwellian-sounding "Domain Awareness System," a computer surveillance project that networks license plate readers, surveillance cameras, sensors and data base information on individuals to create what the city boasts is the most powerful urban surveillance operation in the country.

The CBS news piece is altogether a very NYPD-friendly take on the city's surveillance operations, but there is one piece of the report that contradicts something the NYPD has said about its technical capabilities.

Reporter Pablo Guzmán mentions in passing that the NYPD uses face recognition at its Lower Manhattan Security Initiative. But he might want to double check with NYPD spokesman Paul Brown on that question; as recently as August 2012 the department denied that it uses the powerful biometric identification technology. If the NYPD really is using face recognition and lied to the press about it when it announced its Domain Awareness System, it wouldn't be the first time the department has played loose and fast with the truth. It wouldn't hurt for someone to doublecheck.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.