Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Police Cameras to Flood Manhattan to ... Prevent Attacks?!?

I do not think it is possible to make an argument with a strait face that this is anything other than 'Big Brother'. The argument is if it is still a good idea. Supporters seem to acknowledge the serious detrimental impact it will have on people's privacy, so the argument is really if we want to reduce privacy in exchange for protection. While that may be a valid debate, I do not think it is in this case.

Supporters are arguing that more security cameras could stop the attack. Forgetting about the already high numbers of cameras in New York's Time Square, exactly how would that work? Camera sees vehicle approach, camera sees man leaving vehicle, camera sees car explode. Such cameras would prove useful in catching the terrorist, assuming that it was not a suicide attacker, but it would hardly prevent such an attack. That is the difference between observing and interacting. Strict observation is not a defense.

The counter to that is that the observation will lead to interaction. It is a fair point, but also flawed. How long will it take from recognizing the suspiciously parked vehicle to alerting someone to investigate? Now how long does it take for a bomb to go off, even if the person wants to give themselves a few seconds to walk away and blend in with the crowd?

What you have here is a false choice between security and privacy. Instead it is a question of privacy vs detailed images from multiple angles of people dieing. (via)

"New York officials say they could stop attacks like the attempted Times Square car bomb by expanding a controversial surveillance system so sensitive that it will pick up even suspicious behavior.

New York is already a heavily policed city, with 35,000 officers and a counterterrorism bureau -- the first of its kind in the country -- partnering the FBI.

But Saturday's failed terrorist bomb in the Times Square tourist hot spot has provided the authorities with a new argument for expanding a sometimes controversial security blanket of cameras, sensors and analytical software.

The system "will greatly enhance our ability and the ability of the police to detect suspicious activity in real time, and disrupt possible attacks," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday.
Headquartered at 55 Broadway, the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative goes far beyond the traditional hodgepodge of police cameras, such as the 82 devices installed around Times Square.

Instead, an integrated system maintains an unblinking eye, not just watching, but constantly collecting license plate numbers and video of pedestrians and drivers, as well as detecting explosives and other weapons.


  1. I think this libertarian twist you are putting on things lately.

    Considering it only took the authorities 53 hours to track the times square bomber, I think you are right. This at the very least is a waste of money. Do you know anything about what companies sell this kind of equipment?

    On a related note I'm researching government contractors who sell the government anti "cyber warfare" technologies and their connections with political figures- do you know anything about that? If you have an opinion about the threat of "cyber warfare" I'd like to hear it too.

    I know you are usually too busy to ponder my meandering thoughts, but your two cents would be appreciated.

  2. @Ian Spencer Dubrowsky - Yeah, I do feel bad about not having enough time to get to all your comments. I have just been swamped with work lately and do not expect that to change for a couple of weeks; though I may have a window in the middle of next week.

    As for Cyber Warfare, I do think it is a legitimate threat from a few different angles. The first is cyber espionage. The second is the concern that a hacker could, well, hack into an important system and creak havoc.

    The real problem is that since it is more or less an unknown, there are no 'rules'. If a country sent planes toward our airspace, or lobbed an artillery shell at our base, they know that we would respond at least in kind. I can not tell you what we would do if a 'cyber warrior' 'attacked' us successfully.

    Suppose a Chinese hacker, employed and ordered to be the government (ignoring traceability issues), gained access to the power grid and shut down the east cost for a few hours doing tremendous amounts of economic damage; then what? Are we going to fire a few missiles in their direction risking a military confrontation, attempt to 'hack back' and do the same thing, try to publicly embarrass them and demand compensation, try economic sanctions risking a trade war, put out a hit on the hacker(s)...? This also assumes we know who it was, something I discounted talking about what we would do if we knew.

    This double question mark, would we know who and lack of 'appropriate' response, makes this type of attack more likely then a traditional military strike. That means I think it is something we need to defend against, and believe we have done a pretty good job so far.

    If you are instead asking about how I feel about shady deals, I think that would be pretty obvious.


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