The New York Civil Liberties Union today called on the City Council to initiate a formal public review of the NYPD’s plan to create a massive surveillance network for Lower and Midtown Manhattan. This comes in response to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s announcement earlier today that the Police Department intends to expand the surveillance system planned for downtown Manhattan to cover Midtown between 34th and 59th streets, from river to river.
“The NYPD must not spend vast amounts of public money blanketing downtown and Midtown Manhattan in surveillance cameras without any public discussion of its plans and without clear privacy protections,” said Donna Lieberman, New York Civil Liberties Union executive director. “The City Council must establish a formal public review process for these surveillance proposals and a statutory scheme to safeguard the privacy of millions of law-abiding New Yorkers.”
In comments submitted to the NYPD on Thursday responding to privacy guidelines proposed by the Department for the surveillance system, the NYCLU called on the City Council to hold public hearings and enact legislation that would protect New Yorkers’ privacy rights.
“The Department’s proposed privacy guidelines are entirely illusory and contain no real protection,” said Christopher Dunn, NYCLU associate legal director. “Our elected lawmakers need step in and subject this entire surveillance system to a thorough public review.”
The original plan, called the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, would establish a network of 3,000 public and private surveillance cameras to monitor and track vehicles and pedestrians south of Canal Street. The system would allow the Department to maintain a database on the movement and whereabouts of millions of law-abiding New Yorkers. Virtually all the information collected and retained by this police system would be of New Yorkers engaged in lawful activity.
Modeled after London’s often criticized Ring of Steel surveillance network, the Lower Manhattan system is expected to cost about $100 million. The Midtown expansion is expected to cost another $58 million.
In September 2008, the NYCLU filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court challenging the NYPD’s refusal to disclose information about privacy protections in the Lower Manhattan plan. That case is still pending.