This project observes a widespread and increasingly invasive surveillance network infrastructure and its implications in everyday life. After the 9-11, U.S. government took a staunch stance e.g. ‘war-on-terror’ which made a fundamental shift in its domestic as well as foreign policies. Especially New York City, over the past ten years, has undergone major transformations in its infrastructure and implementation of new security. Focusing on NYPD’s employment of surveillance technologies, this project visualizes the ways in which surveillance technologies permeated and invasively thwarted ordinary landscapes of neighborhoods through mapping network nodes such as surveillance cameras, patrol cars, data center, etc.
The side effects of surveillance technology include limitations on freedom of speech and political activity, which are crucial elements for civil liberty, violation of privacy, and human right violation at large. Technology is never free from political economic structure and it is crucial to critically engage with the way in which technology intervenes society. A recent example shows such tendency embedded in technology: JPMorgan Chase bank donated money to the NYPD for purchasing “1,000 new patrol car laptops, as well as security monitoring software in the NYPD’s main data center” (1) while NYPD were watching over the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters, who criticizes financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase Bank for economic injustice. This is also a symbolic case that reveals how surveillance is taken seriously by power elites in the society. The surveillance network is expanding by adopting the latest high tech apparatuses, despites its ongoing controversy. A director of policy and planning for NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau, Jessica Tisch, announced that their system will be better than London’s, the city notorious for having too many CCTVs, by utilizing a sophisticated software algorithms that enables automatic reaction of CCTV cameras to “potentially suspicious” pictures and by reducing the processes for accessing data so that the NYPD can react to suspicions in “real time”. (2) The NYPD hasn’t publicized the data set or algorithms that make possible its “automatic reaction”. What kind of activities becomes automatically suspicious? What do people look like who become automatically suspicious? Technology, in this light, is not independent from human subjectivity although it is presented as non-human, objective things, since “automatic reaction” is eventually programmed by subjective decisions that human makes. Therefore, the surveillance network is intricate with social, political, and economic forces.
With such concerns, I conduct my research in Corona, Queens. Rather than focusing on an area like the Lower Manhattan, (3) which is heavily concentrated with economic and political institutions, I investigate a mundane residential neighborhood so that we can speculate the way in which the surveillance network lurks in our everyday life. I visualize the materiality of the surveillance network by mapping the network nodes following the surveillance system’s chain of orders – the technologies for data collection and data transmission, the city network infrastructure communicating the data, and its data monitoring center.
(2) “NYPD Developing CCTV Camera System That Will Be Better Than London’s”, in Newsweek, May 13, 2010
(3) There are more than 4,000 surveillance cameras, many of which are directly networked enabling real time watch and instant response on “suspicious” situations in the Lower Manhattan. NYLCU has been identifying surveillance camera locations in the Lower Manhattan. See http://www.mediaeater.com/cameras/