New York’s New Surveillance System: Necessary or Invasive?

On Wednesday, New York City unveiled a new surveillance system powered by Microsoft that would provide near-real-time analysis of camera footage across the city. In its press release, the City boasts that the system features “the latest crime prevention and counterterrorism technology.” The security-minded among us may cheer this development as providing heightened protections against terrorism and other planned acts of violence, but for those of us who are more interested in privacy, this announcement reeks of “Big Brother.”

That the NYPD would be able to use the system to monitor thousands or even millions of New Yorkers engaged in all kinds of non-criminal activities is actually quite alarming, even for those of us who do not live in New York. The NYCLU (the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union) released a statement praising the fight against crime but calling for involvement of independent (i.e., non-police) oversight of the system. Is New York uniquely situated for this kind of police surveillance system, or will something similar crop up in other major cities?

While we all desire to be free from violence and terrorism, there are vast individual differences as to just much liberty and privacy are we willing to give up for that security. Since September 11, 2001, we have allowed ourselves to be subjected to frustrating and sometimes humiliating searches at airports. That’s the government at work. Recently, it was revealed that Facebook may be monitoring our chats and messages for criminal activity. That’s a non-government entity acting as a watchdog. New York City’s newest revelation is a coordinated effort between government and non-government. Whether one or more of these types of security measures is acceptable in the interest of security varies from person to person. But everyone should ask where that balance is.

Is this level of surveillance truly necessary for a safe society, or are we looming ever closer to a dystopian society like that depicted in Orwell’s 1984?

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