In NYC, ‘Big Brother’ is watching with 15,000 cameras: Amnesty

New York City, US, Jun 3 (EFE).- Amnesty International denounced Thursday that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) have at their disposal more than 15,000 surveillance cameras with which they can monitor citizens through facial recognition, and has asked the authorities to ban this practice.

In Times Square, one of the busiest places in the Big Apple, the presence of cameras is evident at all intersections, looming over passers-by at the height of the neon billboards of this iconic area.

Activist Derrick Ingram told EFE that it feels like “a Big Brother state where we are being monitored and we don”t know exactly what the repercussions of being monitored will be.”

The NGO said in a statement that the NYPD “has the ability to track people in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx by running images from 15,280 surveillance cameras into invasive and discriminatory facial recognition software”

Ingram, also known as Dwreck, said at this time the NYPD has more than 22,000 open cases (since 2017) in which facial recognition is used, but is “not transparent about the details.”

The cameras cover 47 percent of intersections in the city, a “vast surface area of pervasive surveillance,” Amnesty said.

According to the NGO’s count, Brooklyn has the highest number of surveillance cameras (577) in the city. Census data shows that 54.4 percent of its inhabitants are Black, 30 percent Hispanic and 8.4 percent white.

This technology could be used by states to “intentionally target certain individuals or groups of people based on characteristics, including ethnicity, race and gender, without individualized reasonable suspicion of criminal wrongdoing,” Amnesty said.

“We are talking about virtual lineups and how Black people, non-binary people and transgender people are misidentified due to these faulty systems and faulty software,” said Dwreck, denouncing that “there hasn’t been enough research done around how these cameras are utilized.”

Ingram is 29 years old and works for the activist collective Warriors in the Garden. On Aug. 7, 2020 dozens of police officers tried to enter his apartment, accusing him of assault through shouting down a megaphone into an officer’s ear at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in June.

“[I woke] up at seven in the morning to over forty officers outside my apartment. They had scanned my social media, utilized what we think is facial recognition technology based on photographs that several media outlets were able to obtain, and I was intimidated and threatened,” said Dwreck.

“I was lied to and told that there were warrants for my arrest,” he said, adding that he escaped the “traumatic” event without being detained because he began to livestream what was happening.

“This sprawling network of cameras can be used by police for invasive facial recognition and risk turning New York into an Orwellian surveillance city,” said Matt Mahmoudi, Artificial Intelligence & Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty, in the statement.

He 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 by facial recognition technology using imagery from thousands of camera points across New York.”

In the case of New York, the NGO denounces that they have unsuccessfully submitted numerous Freedom of Information Law requests to the NYPD for details about the software and its operation.

“There has been a glaring lack of information around the NYPD’s use of facial recognition software – making it impossible for New Yorkers to know if and when their face is being tracked across the city,” said Mahmoudi. EFE


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