NYC’s Brave New Public Spy Technology

NYC Spycam Goal: Spot Terrorists Before They Hit

July 12, 2007

... Earlier this week, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled a massive security plan for lower Manhattan. There’ll be 3000 or more cameras in the 1.7 square miles below Canal St., all sending live feeds back to police HQs.

... Footage in other places is used to find criminals after the act. But one of the biggest threats to lower Manhattan is a suicide bomber who’s not going to be so concerned if you can identify him the day afterwards.

So, the cool stuff being deployed in New York isn’t just the mass of cameras. It’s the software that’ll sort through images and automatically try to identify risky stuff: backpacks left unattended, guys wearing long coats on August days, cars circling the Freedom Tower. Facial recognition software is coming too. Ultimately, the cops hope that the computers will be able to identify a risk to a building and immediately dispatch officers there, equipped with electronic blueprints and info on a suspect’s every movement.

Will it work? It’ll probably be sluggish at first. Sorting video is very hard and facial recognition software, for example, has been a bust so far. There’s also huge potential for abuse. But police departments are heading this way, and New York’s rollout is definitely something to watch.