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Security Cameras Coming to New York City

July 11, 2007 at 6:35 PM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: Last month, in the attempted car bomb plots in London and at Glasgow airport, British authorities credited an extensive surveillance system with helping to track the suspects. Just today, four men who tried unsuccessfully to detonate bombs in London’s public transit system on July 21, 2005, were sentenced to life in prison. Their moves had been captured on surveillance video.

Authorities scoured thousands of hours of tape to find clues that led to the arrests.

ANDY HAYMAN, Metropolitan Police, London: The image that’s now showing is of a man at the rear of the top deck on that bus at about 12:00.

JEFFREY BROWN: Investigators also credited security cameras in helping them track suspects in the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings that killed 52 people.

Closed-circuit TV cameras are part of an extensive security system in London, called the Ring of Steel. The security and surveillance cordon that encircles London’s financial district and historic sights includes narrower roads, road blocks, and at least 400,000 cameras. The average Londoner is said to be captured on camera as many as 300 times a day.

The Ring of Steel system was originally implemented in 1993 following a series of bombings by the Irish Republican Army. This week, New York City officials unveiled plans to emulate London’s surveillance system in lower Manhattan, expanding existing security measures by adding 3,000 public and private security cameras by 2010 and at least 116 license plate readers, like this one already used by police in many U.S. cities. All the images would feed into a surveillance center.

The plan would include a system to quickly block roads and restrict traffic flow. If fully implemented, lower Manhattan’s security boost is estimated to cost $90 million.

And we look at the proposed surveillance plan and some concerns it’s raising with New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly; and George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen, author of “The Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom in an Anxious Age.”

Well, Commissioner Kelly, starting with you, why do you want to do this in New York?

Perspectives on surveillance

Raymond Kelly
NYPD Commissioner
We think this is a commonsense approach to add another layer of protection. Is it a panacea? Is it a guarantee? No. But I think it's a wise use of public funds.

RAYMOND KELLY, New York City Police Commissioner: I think the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative is a commonsense approach to protecting what is arguably one of the most sensitive 1.7 square miles on the planet.

It's an area that's been attacked twice successfully by terrorists. It contains really the heart of the financial services industry of New York City and, indeed, this country. It has the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, Mercantile Stock Exchange, the newly to be constructed Freedom Tower. It has the World Financial Center. It has three new buildings at the World Trade Center site.

So it clearly is a potential target for terrorists. We think, as I say, this is a commonsense approach to add another layer of protection. Is it a panacea? Is it a guarantee? No. But I think it's a wise use of public funds in protecting certainly a tremendous revenue generator for the city and for the country.

JEFFREY BROWN: Jeffrey Rosen, you've looked at the London system in the past. What concerns does it raise for implementing it here?

JEFFREY ROSEN, Law Professor, George Washington University: Well, there are concerns about effectiveness and concerns about privacy. And maybe I can start with effectiveness.

The London system was sold as a way of deterring terrorism, of preventing it, but everyone can see that it has not achieved that goal. The head of the system standing inside the control room told me that he caught no terrorists using the system. And it's not a surprise. Terrorists are hard to deter.

Instead of deterring terrorist acts before they occur, obviously the cameras can be useful as one of several tools in detecting acts after they've occur. But we really don't have a strong sense of whether these things were cracked because of the cameras or whether they would have been solved anyway.

The most famous case in London, the cameras were installed because there were video pictures of a 2-year-old boy being led off to his death by two 10-year-old rogues, two school boys. People thought it was because of the cameras that the guys were caught. In fact, they'd boasted to their friends. It was human intelligence that cracked it. But the vision, the image was so powerful that the cameras were given too much weight. The final effectiveness is concerning.

In London, the cameras are not used now really for even terrorist detection primarily. They're used to charge a congestion tax for every car that comes into the city, and Mayor Bloomberg has made clear he wants to use these cameras for the same purpose, if the state legislature will go along. There's really a form of mission creep and cameras that are accepted for one purpose are used for another.

Assessing effectiveness

Jeffrey Rosen
George Washington University
What do you suppose a bunch of bored unsupervised guys do at midnight when no one else is watching them? Zooming in on attractive women or people making out in the park.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let's stay on effectiveness. And, Commissioner Kelly, what's your response to that? Do you see this as a way of being able to actually deter terrorism, as opposed to some of the successes that they've had in London so far?

RAYMOND KELLY: Yes, well, we simply don't know how many attacks have been deterred by the existence of the cameras. It's difficult to measure that.

But let me correct something that the professor said. There's no intention on the part of Mayor Bloomberg to use these cameras for revenue generation. The plan does not focus on lower Manhattan; it's for a much wider area. We've been talking about this plan -- indeed, putting together the pieces of it -- for two years, long before congestion pricing surfaced.

I think it can act as a deterrent. And as you said in your set-up piece, it certainly helped in the conviction of these four individuals who attempted to bomb London on July 21, 2005. It certainly helped in placing the cars that were used 10 days ago and attempted to bomb London in Glasgow. They did that very, very quickly, or up close to the Scottish border.

So it certainly provides information, and it is not a panacea, but I think it is a valuable additional layer to put in place. We're talking, also, about adding 800 police officers to that location. It will be put in conjunction with a coordination center, where we have both public and private stakeholders, and we'll use actual physical barriers that will be in place to stop traffic in extreme situations.

So, all in all, I think it's a pretty comprehensive program. And it's not just cameras.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK, you want to move on to the privacy issue?

JEFFREY ROSEN: Absolutely. So I sat in the control room, watching the watchers look for supposed wrongdoers. And what do you suppose a bunch of bored unsupervised guys do at midnight when no one else is watching them? Zooming in on attractive women or people making out in the park.

And we know that recently in America, in the 2004 Republican convention in New York, surveillance cameras on airplanes found pictures of a couple making love on a roof garden, followed them, watched this whole thing, and then actually trailed the woman as she left.

These pictures were turned over during litigation over a related lawsuit, claiming that the cameras have been used to discriminatorily track protesters and basically intimidate them. Both of those are currently being litigated. So these two concerns, voyeuristic surveillance and discriminatory political retaliation against the government enemies, are obvious dangers.

"An expectation of privacy"

Raymond Kelly
NYPD Commissioner
It's simply not a legal issue. It's not a violation of the Constitution. It's not a violation of statute.

JEFFREY BROWN: Would there be a way to do this with limits and restrictions on how the cameras are used or how the tape is used?

JEFFREY ROSEN: This is the hope in England. They have watchers watching the watchers. Other people have tried to use automated systems that supposedly will just alert when unusual movements come up.

But the truth is -- and this is not a surprise to anyone -- people get bored. The sheer volume of information is hard to keep track of. No system that I know of has found a way of completely avoiding these dangers of voyeurism and misuse of tapes, although many people have tried.

JEFFREY BROWN: Commissioner Kelly, what do you say to that? Should people have an expectation of privacy in these kinds of areas, lower Manhattan, where you're talking about?

RAYMOND KELLY: Well, it's long been settled in the law that there is no expectation of privacy in the public place. That's been the law of the land for quite a while. There was a landmark Supreme Court decision, I believe, was in 1968.

So it's simply not a legal issue. It's not a violation of the Constitution. It's not a violation of statute. I think what the professor is talking about is policy. And we're really -- you know, we're not talking about a violation of anyone's constitutional rights.

Will there be, you know, some aberrations? You can always point to some misuse of a piece of equipment. But by and large, I think it just simply makes sense to have cameras, to have the ability to monitor activities in this most sensitive location, I'd say for the United States of America, not just for New York City.

JEFFREY BROWN: So you wouldn't have limits on how long the tapes are kept or where the cameras are pointed, anything like that?

RAYMOND KELLY: Well, we'd have them only in public areas and, again, no intention of holding onto this. It will be on a seven-day loop or a 30-day loop, something along those lines. There's no intention to inventory and to collect large amounts of information or pictures.

Acceptance among Americans

Jeffrey Rosen
George Washington University
Right after 9/11, there was a proposal actually by the former police commissioner, Howard Safir, to have 100 biometric cameras in Times Square, but there was a vigorous protest by civil libertarian liberals and libertarian conservatives.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me just ask, in the time we have left, Jeffrey Rosen, it's clear that the British public has accepted a very high level of surveillance. Do you see that in the American public? Or do you think this is the kind of thing that will provoke a great fight?

JEFFREY ROSEN: There are fascinating cultural differences when it comes to surveillance. The British in general are more deferential to authority than we are. So are the French, which is why President Sarkozy has embraced the cameras.

Right after 9/11, there was a proposal actually by the former police commissioner, Howard Safir, to have 100 biometric cameras in Times Square, but there was a vigorous protest by civil libertarian liberals and libertarian conservatives. And as a result, that system and a proposed one in Washington were resisted.

This is not a majority of Americans. Most people like cameras. Maybe 20 percent of people are concerned about this sort of thing. But in a system of checks and balances, until recently, that's been enough to stop them. Now these pictures coming out of England are just so powerful that people view it as a feel-good technology. They think they can be protected by the cameras, even though the British government's own studies have found no connection between the spread of the cameras and the decline of terrorism.

JEFFREY BROWN: Commissioner Kelly, time for a brief response. Do you think the American public will accept a higher level of surveillance?

RAYMOND KELLY: Absolutely. I think the professor's timeframe was incorrect there. I would say, it wasn't the police commissioner after September 11th, but certainly after September 11th people are much more receptive to cameras.

We're in the process of putting in 550 cameras in New York City. We're halfway there. The public loves it. All the feedback, all the polling we've done, people want more cameras. So I think the genie is out of the bottle. And I think the public will simply ask for more cameras in public areas in New York City.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Professor Jeffrey Rosen, thank you both very much.