NYCLU Surveillance Camera Project

The Philosophy Behind the Project

Video surveillance cameras have arrived on the streets of New York City. But it is up to us to decide if they are here to stay, and if they are, then under what conditions. Commonplace outside private companies, storefronts and apartment buildings, in parks and at intersections, surveillance cameras have been passively accepted as necessary for our personal safety. At this stage in their proliferation, we need to take an active, not passive, role in the decision-making process that allows for the installation of video surveillance cameras.

In certain situations, cameras do afford us an important sense of safety: when they watch the entryway of our apartment buildings or the loading dock of our businesses. But there is an equal, if not greater, number of situations in which cameras become not protective, but invasive. Placed in changing rooms and bathrooms, cameras record peoples most private moments on tape, tapes on which footage of women undressing or using the bathroom is often reviewed by men. In these examples, the deleterious nature of video surveillance is obvious. But in other situations the invasive presence of a camera is not as blatant, but it is equally as intrusive.

Read the full story and see the map at the NYCLU Surveillance Camera Project at www.mediaeater.com/cameras/

The Making of the Map

Over a period of five months, a small but dedicated group of New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) volunteers walked the streets of Manhattan in search of video surveillance cameras. This group sought out every camera, public or private, which records people in public space. Mostly by foot, but occasionally by car, they covered every block in the borough. From the records they made of all camera locations, the volunteers produced a comprehensive map of surveillance cameras in Manhattan.

The map includes cameras that are readily visible from the city streets. This means that the cameras may be located in private or public spaces, but record action in the latter. However, we cannot represent that all visible cameras are continuously functioning.

Although the group saw 2,397 cameras in Manhattan, the map they created is far from exhaustive. As slowly as they walked and as carefully as they looked, cameras have escaped their search. A few because the volunteers were busily writing down the location of a camera nearby, but many more because the cameras were hidden from sight. Whether tucked surreptitiously out of the line of vision or small enough to escape detection, we believe many more cameras currentlywatch our city streets than appear on the map. And numerous others are continually being installed.

Creating a map of Manhattan is just the first stage of the project. The NYCLU plans to expand the map to include all cameras that record public spaces in all five boroughs. Then, the NYCLU will continually update the city-wide map to reflect what we predict to be a growing number of surveillance cameras in the city.

See the map and read the full story at the NYCLU Surveillance Camera Project at www.mediaeater.com/cameras/