October 11, 2007 — In response to recent disclosures that the New York City Police Department intends to set up a system of thousands of surveillance cameras in lower Manhattan, the New York Civil Liberties Union has filed formal freedom of information requests seeking documents about the system. In requests filed late last week with the United States Department of Homeland Security and the NYPD, the NYCLU has sought documents providing details about the system, with a focus on the privacy implications of the system.
Who's Watching? Video Camera Surveillance in New York City and the Need for Public Oversight (PDF).
Modeled after the “Ring of Steel” police-camera surveillance system in London, the forthcoming NYPD system – technically called the “Lower Manhattan Security Initiative – will include thousands of cameras that will track and record the movement of the tens of thousands of vehicles and people entering lower Manhattan every day. The system reportedly will cost $100 million, a portion of which is being provided by the federal government. To date, the NYPD has released no information about what specific information will be collected, what it will be used for, who will have access to it and how long it will be kept.
“The NYPD should not be spending $100 million of public money to install thousands of surveillance cameras that will track law-abiding New Yorkers without any public discussion of this initiative and without clear privacy protections,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, who is leading an NYCLU project that will focus on NYPD surveillance. “Through our information requests, we expect to be able to force the NYPD and the federal government to release information to the public that will allow for a full and informed debate.”
NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, “The Ring of Steel is just the latest assault on this country’s historical respect for the right of privacy. Through programs like this, the important line between the police and law-abiding people is being obliterated.”
The requests filed by the NYCLU call for production of documents about the NYPD Ring of Steel program by the end of the month.