Tuesday, June 15

The “Big Brother” in New York: the police monitor citizens with 15,000 facial recognition cameras

Cameras watch the city.

Photo: Edwin Martínez / Impremedia

Amnesty International (AI) denounced this Thursday that the New York City Police has at your disposal more than 15,000 surveillance cameras with which it can track citizens through a facial recognition program and has asked the authorities to prohibit this practice.

In Times Square, one of the busiest places in the Big Apple, the presence of police cameras is evident at all intersections. Raising your eyes a little above the passers-by, tourists and extras and at the height of the illuminated signs that dress the buildings of this emblematic place, it is easy to count a score of cameras without making a great effort.

There are hundreds of “Video cameras or surveillance cameras here. Most of them are outdoors, but there are also several cameras here that we can’t see. It really feels like a Big Brother state where they are monitoring us and we don’t know exactly what the repercussions of being watched will be. “activist Derrick Ingram tells Efe in Times Square, comparing New York with the dystopian novel “1984” by George Orwell.

According to the NGO, the Police can feed a facial recognition software with images from 15,280 surveillance cameras in the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx and according to Ingram, also known as Dwreck, at this time “the New York Police have more than 22,000 open cases (since 2017) in which they use facial recognition, but are not transparent about the details ”and refuse to offer more information.


The human rights defense organization, which considers this practice “invasive and discriminatory”, assures that it has located these cameras with the help of 5,500 volunteers from 144 countries.

According to Amnesty, cameras cover 47% of intersections in the city, “a vast area of ​​widespread surveillance.”

In the district of Brooklyn they are deployed 8,220 cameras, more than double the number in The Bronx (3,470) or Manhattan (3,590).

According to AI’s count, the East New York neighborhood in Brooklyn, one of the most violent areas in the city, is also the one with the highest number of surveillance cameras (577). According to census data, 54.4% of its inhabitants are black, 30% Hispanic and 8.4% white.

“We are talking about virtual programs and how black people, non-binary people and transgender people are misidentified with these faulty systems and the quality of the software,” says Dwreck, who collaborates with AI in the campaign against facial recognition, before denouncing that “not enough research has been done on how these cameras are used.”


Ingram, who is 29 years old and works as a communication director for the NGO “Warriors in the Garden”, was videotaped at a demonstration of the anti-racist movement Black Lives Matter in June 2020, and on June 7, 2020. August dozens of police officers tried to enter his apartment on charges of attacking an agent.

“I woke up at seven in the morning with more than 40 agents outside my apartment. They scanned my social networks, they used what we believe to be facial recognition technology based on photographs that they were able to obtain from various media outlets and the NYPD intimidated and threatened me, lied to me and told me that there were arrest warrants ”, says Dwreck who explains that the police had dogs, drones, snipers and a battering ram ready to break down the door.

“It was quite a traumatic event,” the activist explained to Efe, who escaped being detained because he began to broadcast what was happening live.


“This extensive network of cameras can be used by law enforcement for invasive facial recognition and risks turning New York into an Orwellian surveillance city,” said Amnesty International human rights and artificial intelligence researcher Matt Mahmoudi, quoted in a statement.

Mahmoudi added that no one in the city is anonymous, regardless of whether they go to a demonstration, stroll through a neighborhood or shop at the greengrocer: “Your face can be tracked with facial recognition technology that uses images from thousands of cameras throughout New York.”

The report is the continuation of an international campaign launched by AI on January 25 to fight for a ban on facial recognition technology, which for the organization “amplifies racist policing and threatens the right to protest.”

According to Amnesty, this technology could be used by states to monitor “certain individuals or groups based on their characteristics, including their ethnicity, race and gender, without a reasonable individualized suspicion of criminal behavior.”

In the case of New York, the NGO complains that they have unsuccessfully asked the Police for details about the software and its operation.

“There has been a glaring lack of information about the use of facial recognition software by the NYPD, making it impossible for New Yorkers to know if and when their face is being tracked in the city,” said Matt. Mahmoudi.


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