NY Edition

8 Ways New Yorkers Are Losing Their Privacy

Not what Taylor Swift was singing about

Big Brother in the Big Apple

The year 1984 has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean Big Brother isn’t watching you. And NYC is no slacker in terms of surveillance – the city features at least 6,000 public and private security cameras. Check out some of the many ways in which you’re being watched in the city that never sleeps.

E-Z Access

While most people think of their E-ZPass as just a simple way to escape congestion on the tunnels into Manhattan, the tags also track movement far away from any tollbooth. The data’s use isn’t always subtle, either – N.J. governor Chris Christie publicly attacked a political opponent with information from an E-ZPass.

Star Search

When celebrities catch a cab in NYC, they probably don’t expect their exact route and how much they tipped to be broadcast online. But that’s exactly what one individual did, by finding correlations between time-stamped paparazzi photos and the publicly released database of every single cab ride taken in NYC. Though the celebrity stalking itself only led to a few frazzled PR agents, the incident revealed the somewhat terrifying power of metadata.

Wifi Worries

LinkNYC – the public-private partnership working to blanket NYC in free wifi – seems innocent enough. However, free and widely used wifi offers hackers an easy opportunity to steal private information from your device. LinkNYC seeks to mitigate this, though, by making their program one of the first free municipal wifi networks to have an encrypted connection.

Urban Eyes

Billing itself as an urban intelligence platform, Placemeter quantifies video feeds of streets, creating reports of pedestrian traffic. Some blogs and media raised privacy concerns regarding the company’s ability to track pedestrians – but Placemeter assures that their technology can’t identify individuals and most video feeds are deleted immediately after processing.

Face Off

The NYPD has their own Facial Recognition Unit, made up of five detectives using high-tech software to identity individuals. While the software has been helpful in catching criminals, an NYU legal advocacy group is questioning its lack of regulations. The criticism adds another voice to the evolving national debate regarding facial recognition technology.

Peeping Tom?

It’s perfectly legal for your neighbors to photograph you in your home via a zoom lens – as long as it’s art. That’s what the court ruled in the case of Arne Svenson, a photographer whose May 2013 art exhibit featured images of the people who lived across the street from his Lower Manhattan residence.

All Ears

Calling themselves “third-party contractors” of the NSA, a group of pranksters are publishing conversations recorded in a variety of NYC locations. While no illegal activity has been recorded yet, be careful – or your chat at the gym about “House of Cards” might be posted to the Internet. Feeling angry about the surveillance? The website encourages you to contact your government representative and links to an anti-Patriot Act petition.

Not Playing Around

Surveillance Camera Players is an NYC-based performance arts activist group founded in 1996 and best known for their subway performance of “1984.” Get a taste of the pro-privacy movement by attending one of their Surveillance Camera Outdoor Walking Tours.

Now go forth (and speak softly).


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