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The city where the cameras never sleep… New York, New York

September 21, 2010

The Gothamist blog has a brief report on the massive upgrading and expansion of the video surveillance system in the New York public transit system. Like Chicago, which I’ve mentioned several times here, the cameras in New York are really just collection devices to feed an evolving suite of video analytic software, that can track suspects or vehicles in real-time or search through old footage to find multiple occurences of particular distinctive objects or people.

The other notable thing is that the new camera system is just completely overlaying the old – in other words there is no attempt to connect the older cameras which are not compatible and have far poorer image quality. As cameras and software gets cheaper, this option looks like being the one many urban authorities will pursue, so cities like London, which pioneered widespread video surveillance, but which, with their disconnected mosaic of incompatible systems, have started to look increasingly ineffective and out-of-date, could deal with this not by expensive and unreliable fixes but simply by sticking in an entirely new integrated algorithmic system on top of or alongside the old ones. Technological fallibility and incompatibility can no longer be relied on as protections for the privacy rights of citizens in public spaces.

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