Poll: 85 percent favor more cameras, but most do not see them as incompatible with civil liberties

Brooklyn loves surveillance! Borough residents want more cameras despite ominous warnings

Eye in the sky: An EZ-Pass box is just one way that government agencies can track Brooklynites' every move.
The Brooklyn Paper
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It’s official: Brooklynites’ every movement, every phone call, and practically every step is being tracked by some government agency, and most of us don’t give a damn about it.

The companies that we trust with our personal information while we browse the internet are piping our online activity to the feds. The sidewalks that we walk on have more cameras focusing on them than a soundstage at the Barclays Center. The numbers we dial on our cellphones are being logged in giant government databases. And when we drive our cars, the EZ-Pass tags that make it so easy to pay tolls are also tracking our movements around the city.

Face it — New York has all of the tools in place for our next mayor to make it an oppressive place to live, and civil libertarians say that has to change.

“There are lots more government cameras out there and there are no protections,” said Chris Dunn, a lawyer at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “That’s something that the next mayor will have to think about.”

The civil liberties organization has warned New York government officials about the city’s massive security infrastructure before. In a 2006 study, the group found 4,176 security cameras in Lower Manhattan alone. Now, Dunn said, the number of security cameras is so high that it is uncountable.

“Since 2006, there are many, many more cameras and there are no more protections,” Dunn said.

And yet, no civil liberties issue besides stop-and-frisk is taking center stage in the 2013 election season and, according to a recent survey, an overwhelming majority of Brooklynites could care less about surveillance. In fact, 81 percent of borough residents want more security cameras in public places, according to the Quinnipiac University poll.

“Maybe they like that, walking on the street, someone is watching over them,” said Pat Smith, a spokesman for the pollsters.

That is certainly how the current city administration likes to present it. Mayor Bloomberg and police chief Ray Kelly have often pointed to 14 terrorist plots that they say have been thwarted thanks to aggressive New York police surveillance. The truth is much more complicated and only two or three of the plots represented clear threats, according to a Pro Publica analysis. Of those plots, agencies besides the New York Police Department stopped two and the third, a car-bombing of Time Square in 2010, failed only due to the poor bomb-making skills of the man behind it.

But Brooklynites seem to think that more cameras do not necessarily mean less freedom of movement or assembly. Nearly three quarters of polled residents said that the risk of terrorism should not be used to violate their civil liberties. Apparently all the cameras, the federal interception of phone and internet data, and new technologies the New York police are looking into like drones and portable body scanners have not raised red flags.

That is an oversight, Dunn said, because surveillance infrastructure allows the people behind the controls to invade privacy with impunity. The civil libertarian gave as an example the time police used a camera-mounted helicopter to film people having sex.

Not all police surveillance sounds like dystopian science fiction, though. The New York Police Department has spied on Muslim neighborhoods and liberal political groups for years the old-fashioned way: using undercover cops.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.
Updated 10:14 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

John Wasserman from Windsor Terrace says:
Excuse me, but this didn't help with Jackie Robinson statue case, in which the structure was spray painted in Nazi artwork. Pardon my pointing this out.
Aug. 27, 2013, 12:33 pm
Neimoller from Germany says:
Who watches the watchers?
Aug. 27, 2013, 7:34 pm
JAY from NYC says:
nice try jamie Lutz and Brooklyn Paper but this article is just intellectually dishonest. Comparing a traffic camera or security camera to that of a camera on a helicopter that caught a couple having sex out in the open on a balcony is NOT the same thing. For some reason though you don't mention that in your article the couple caught by Heli-cam was outside on a balcony. Now why is that?
News flash, you do NOT have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place, that is Con Law 101. If you are boinking outside and get caught, then its on you and no one else.
Does your editorial board have some sort of standards and practice review?
Furthermore, many of those cameras you talk about are from private organizations and individual citizens. Your article does not differentiate between them though.
In additional the NYPD is NOT the only law enforcement organization in town that uses cameras.
It is also worth noting that cameras catch many many many criminals that have nothing to do with terrorism, but committing crimes that happen all the time, like grandma hazel getting mugged, the corner bodega getting jacked by a loser with a crappy hand gun, or the livery cab driver getting held up, or the hit and run that kills an 8 year old.
All of those cameras, and all the other things that you spout about, without by the way pointing to a single source, still have to pass constitutional scrutiny in a court of law should they actually be used for something like you know, a little thing called a prosecution.
Cameras also catch the law enforcers doing wrong sometimes as well, but you did not mention that either did you Ms. Lutz?
Also, food for thought, think the Treyvon Martin-Zimmerman case would have been decided better or worse if there had been a camera that saw what happened?
Come on Ms. Lutz, thats a softball that you did not even swing at in your article. Try a little at least please.
If you want to raise a civil libertarian issue Ms. Lutz, great, do it, but you seem to have a consistent problem where you write something without doing any research or knowing what you are talking about, and that is not helping you. I expect that from Tal, but you should expect better of yourself Ms. Lutz.
Aug. 27, 2013, 7:48 pm
Officer Muldoon, 54th Pct from Brownsville says:
This paper is bad joke; not just the forced yuks of the pathetic Gerh era but humiliating. Jamie, get the hell out of there before it's too late, this is a disgrace...

And btw, 99% of NYPD cameras are a total joke, it's a smokescreen by Popeye Kelly-- by far the worst PC in city, even worse than Kerik for the damage he's done to the department-- and Bloomturd to distract attention from the MASSIVE inefficiency and incompetency within NYPD.

Both of those creeps want summons robots, not COPS, thus the fatuous reputation of CONSTAT and its abuses.
Aug. 27, 2013, 8:45 pm
Thee Rant? from Yuk Yuk Yuk says:
Looks like them boyz from Thee Rant are in da house.
Aug. 28, 2013, 7:32 pm
Bendrix says:
See, hipsters, what your focus on beehives and sustainable bakery locavorism has done? Everyone was so distracted riding bicycles and generating wind power with their libtard friends that the NYPD and Obama had time to install this stuff without anyone noticing. Maybe if Megan and Tyler hadn't been so busy knitting scarves and beanies in the middle of the freaking summer. Sweet Jesus, go back to Indiana.
Aug. 29, 2013, 11:23 am

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