New York City Residents Turn City's Traffic Cameras Into Cop-Watching Tools

from the eyes-on-the-eyes dept

In New York City, the government's surveillance tools are being turned against it. This is wonderful news for all citizens who still have the power to inject accountability and transparency into a system that wholeheartedly resists it. To keep tabs on misbehaving cops, activists are using the city's cameras to watch their watchers. Lorenzo Franceshi-Bicchieari has the details for Motherboard.

A group of activists that runs a free community-owned internet service provider in New York City is now archiving hundreds of gigabytes of the city’s surveillance camera footage in an effort to keep police accountable.

The city's Department of Transportation has several publicly-accessible cameras on its website. But it's incapable of tracking anything on its own. Citizens can watch camera feeds, but unless they're willing to camp out 24/7 to catch cops doing things they shouldn't, there's no permanent record of the incident. The activists are using a script to capture feeds and remove the transient nature of the system.

The project works like this: NYC Mesh has written a tool that archives an image from every public camera every time the feed gets updated, which can be between one and 30 seconds. The pictures are then uploaded on Google Drive in bundles organized by hourly folders that have a text file containing information about the camera ID, the borough it is in, and its specific location.

It appears the DOT is aware of this additional activity. Akash Patel, who is contributing to the NYC Mesh project, told Motherboard he's noticed a significant slowdown at the site. Patel used to be able to download around 200 gigabytes of photos a day. It now appears the DOT is throttling connections to prevent mass downloading of camera images.

There isn't a system out there that can't be gamed. The government watches the cameras when it wants to keep tabs on citizens. Citizens have always had the option to ensure the watching goes both ways. A tool that automates the collection of footage is just the forward progress of technology.

License plate readers have removed the manual labor involved in running plates and/or surveilling people's movements. Facial recognition tech has made it possible for officers to obtain anyone's ID without actually approaching that person and demanding it from them. And reverse warrants allow cops to obtain a list of suspects and witnesses without actually having to canvass the area where a crime occurred.

Citizens should strive to streamline their watching of watchers whenever possible. Using the DOT's cameras to keep an eye on errant cops just makes sense. After all, it's their tax dollars that are being spent to outfit the city with hundreds of cameras and provide the infrastructure to support it.

Filed Under: nyc, surveillance, traffic cameras, watching police


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  • identicon
    Pixelation, 19 Jun 2020 @ 3:35pm

    Video access...

    going away forever in 3, 2, 1...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 19 Jun 2020 @ 5:00pm

    More entertainment..

    Lets see..
    City installs cameras.
    City lets them be Public accessed..
    Record and send in the vid of the crime.
    If everyone is held responsible..
    Cops, you, me, the rich, the corps..

    Could be an interesting thing.
    But with everyone sharing the info and taking advantage of this. Isnt that a type of socialism??
    At least it would be better then CSPAN.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2020 @ 2:21am

      Re: More entertainment..

      A successful BLM movement needs to keep part of its organization
      away from the eyes of the state. This should be part of the practice of every
      revolutionary, AntiFa or otherwise. The survival and continuity of the revolutionary movement,
      of the activists and the supporters over a long period of time, depends on
      having networks and resources not exposed to computer patterns, electronic
      surveillance and infiltration of the repressive apparatus. The continued
      existence of underground organizations shows this can be done.

      —Building a capacity to survive over time is no substitute for
      militancy NOW in our daily work. An uncompromising, confrontational
      approach to political work is the best way to inspire the people, build
      organization, and learn to fight.

      FUCK EVERYBODY!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 20 Jun 2020 @ 6:09pm

        Re: Re: More entertainment..

        Whats more interesting tends to be the act of using the LAW against them. But they are creating it as they go to cover up themselves.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 19 Jun 2020 @ 5:40pm

    Parity

    Since we cannot have a world without surveillance, I think parity is the answer: You get to watch us, we get to watch you. Surveillance should benefit the public as well as the government.

    I think we could even let the government use encryption on the camera feeds...right after they give the public the backdoor key.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Parity, 19 Jun 2020 @ 6:36pm

      Re: Parity

      Who watches the watchmen?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 Jun 2020 @ 3:07pm

      Re: Parity

      If ideas like widespread surveillance and crippled encryption was actually enforced both ways, and the government had to deal with those things first I guarantee that the enthusiasm for such ideas among government employees/politicians would drop like a rock.

      Watching the public and being able to listen in whenever they communicate is all sorts of fun, facing the potential that the public could watch you back rather less so.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2020 @ 2:19am

    We don't need no stinkin cops

    In US-built prisons in the Third World, women are tortured with
    the special methods developed by the CIA, AID, and the "International
    Association of Chiefs of Police. There are over 100,000 women in South
    Vietnamese prisons, thousands in Brazil and Uruguay. They are tortured by
    electric shock, beatings, drugs and sexual violence.

    Coming soon to an independent city (like Chop) near you

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2020 @ 2:35am

    Stephen T. Stone Denies The Murders in Chop

    The news of a homicide within Seattle’s CHAZ/CHOP insurrection sector is coming out at a proverbial fast and furious pace. Several media outlets, including KING 5 News, are reporting shots fired early this morning in Cal Anderson Park, near 10th Ave. and E. Pine St., which is about a block northwest of the captured/surrendered Seattle Police Department (SPD) East Precinct.

    Since this is a developing story, I’m just going to lay out the essence of what I’ve heard and read so far. We can sort out the details as they emerge. So far, reports suggest a suspect shot two people, leaving one dead and the other critical. That suspect looked a great deal like Stephen T. Stone, but that's according to multiple anonymous sources that all hate Stone.

    When police arrived, neither Stone nor the CHOP mob would allow officers in to investigate. Reports indicate Chopistanian “security” transported the deceased and injured persons to Harborview Medical Center. Once there, the CHOP insurgents’ armed “security” allegedly took over the ER. Stone denied all this, vehemently and repeatedly, but hey, he denies everything

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bobob, 21 Jun 2020 @ 11:52am

    A second benefit to this that now the public knows a lot more about how much they are being monitored and could choose to eliminate some, all or none of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2020 @ 9:49am

    "Facial recognition tech has made it possible for officers to obtain anyone's ID"

    Can Techdirt make up it's mind whether facial recognition tech works? Aren't there endless stories on here about how it doesn't? Bet then Cushing says it does.

    Which is it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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