March 16, 2016 — The city’s new public Wi-Fi network LinkNYC raises several privacy concerns for users, the New York Civil Liberties Union announced today after sending a letter to the Office of the Mayor on Tuesday. CityBridge, the company behind the LinkNYC kiosks that have begun replacing phone booths in Manhattan, retains a vast amount of information about users – often indefinitely – building a massive database that carries a risk of security breaches and unwarranted NYPD surveillance.
“New Yorkers’ private online activities shouldn’t be used to create a massive database that’s within the ready grasp of the NYPD,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “Free public Wi-Fi can be an invaluable resource for this city, but New Yorkers need to know there are too many strings attached.”
The majority of Americans believe that their Internet browsing history -- which can reveal their political views, religious affiliations, medical or family problems -- is sensitive. The national public outcry after Apple was ordered to help unlock a phone from the San Bernardino terrorist attacks made it clear how seriously Americans take threats to their security and privacy.
LinkNYC, which was publicly launched in January, will eventually become a network of as many as 7,500 to 10,000 public kiosks offering fast and free Wi-Fi throughout all five boroughs. The sheer volume of information gathered by this powerful network will create a massive database of information that will present attractive opportunities for hackers and for law enforcement surveillance, and will carry an undue risk of abuse, misuse and unauthorized access.
“Internet access is not a choice, it’s a modern-life necessity,” said Mariko Hirose, senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “The city’s public Wi-Fi network should set the bar for privacy and security to help ensure that New Yorkers do not have to sacrifice their rights and freedoms to sign online.”