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New York City expanding surveillance infrastructure

October 5, 2009

The New York Times reports that $24M US has been assigned from the Department of Homeland Security to expand the city’s CCTV camera system from downtown to midtown Manhattan (the area between 30th and 60th Streets). This of course is justified by Mayor Bloomberg on the grounds of security, with a large number of iconic buildings in the midtown area. However, it bears repeating that firstly, the 9/11 attacks did not come from the streets, and secondly, London already had a comprehensive CCTV system at the time of the 7/7 attacks and whilst they provided lots of pictures for the news media afterwards, they did not in any way prevent the attacks, and it is difficult to see how such a system could prevent any determined attacker. It may make people feel safer, at least temporarily, however even at that symbolic level, there’s likely to be as many people who feel uneasy about the idea of constant monitoring or the loss of privacy (although from my experience of the UK, the actual monitoring is far from constant or comprehensive, and most people also get used to that too). But, whatever the people of New York do feel – and there will many different reactions – they shouldn’t get the impression that they are getting actual ‘security’ (whatever that is) here. This isn’t a message many people like to hear, it seems, least of all those in government…

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