Back to All Commentary

Op-Ed: The NYPD’s Surveillance Society (New York Daily News)

by Christopher Dunn and Donna Lieberman — If you like the idea of blanket police surveillance of the American public after 9/11, you’ll love the New York City Police Department’s “ring of steel” proposal. For the rest of us, this plan, like government spying on Google searches, is just the latest assault on our society’s historic respect for privacy.

The Daily News reported last month that NYPD officials are eyeing a program that uses thousands of police cameras to photograph cars and people entering London’s financial district. Based on the London model, the NYPD is considering stringing cameras along Chambers Street and at lower Manhattan bridges and tunnels and subway and PATH stations, creating unblinking police surveillance of those entering the area.

We’re all in favor of keeping tabs on people suspected of unlawful activity, particularly suspected terrorists. That does not mean, however, that indiscriminate police scrutiny of law-abiding New Yorkers is acceptable. And it certainly doesn’t mean the cops should be compiling files on all of us just because a tiny percentage of people commit crimes.

Yet, under the “ring of steel” proposal, NYPD cameras would capture the license plate of every vehicle entering lower Manhattan, with all that information going into police databases for unknown purposes. Worse still, the Department would photograph people entering the area. Between advances in digital photography and the NYPD’s mania for “intelligence” gathering, you can rest assured the Department would be working overtime to compile photographic dossiers detailing the movement of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose only “crime” is using the public streets and sidewalks of Manhattan.

Is it the business of the police every time someone enters lower Manhattan? Should every stock broker heading to work, every child going to school, and every tourist visiting the Statute of Liberty end up in a police file? We think not.

Our historic respect for the line separating the government from legitimate, private activities of Americans is being obliterated in the name of fighting terrorism. The “ring of steel” plan is just the next step towards a total surveillance society.

What’s next, Mr. Vallone? A GPS tracking device on every bumper? Cameras in our living rooms? Where does it end?

Dunn is Associate Legal Director and Lieberman is Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union