Eye in the Sky: NY High-Tech crackdown on illegal pools – latest assault on your right to privacy?

Originally published: August 1, 2010
Updated: August 31, 2010 at 10:37 pm
By

Who's watching you? Living under the shadow of the camera.

Riverhead NY

Just the latest in a string of moves by both local government agencies and law enforcement on your right to privacy.


Who is Watching You?

In an unprecedented proliferation of public spying, government is casting its watchful eye on millions of ordinary Americans through largely unregulated surveillance cameras trained on public spaces throughout the nation.

A Scripps Howard News Service tally found that at least 200 towns and cities in 37 states now employ video cameras – or are in the process of doing so – to watch sidewalks, parks, schools, buses, buildings and similar community locales. That number excludes the approximately 110 other municipalities that use traffic cameras to catch speeders and red-light runners.

Many civil liberties and camera-use proponents alike are troubled of the absence of local, state or federal laws that specifically govern police-video surveillance of Americans, suspected of no crime, as they go about their daily business.

Equally rare are enforceable regulations on such matters as who or what can be watched, how long images can be kept, who can see and share them, where a person’s “zone of privacy” begins, and what recourse and punishments exist if that privacy is abused.

Newsday (Subscription Only) is reporting that a Long Island town is using a new tool to find you without ever setting foot on your property.

Using Google Earth images Riverhead’s Chief Building Inspector Leroy Barnes Jr. eyeballed properties on the Internet and identified those with pools, then compared the list to records of homes with pool permits.

Barnes said he targeted pools – after discussions with town leaders – because of safety concerns. Without permits and the required inspections, pools can be hazards, he said, because there’s no way to tell whether fencing, electric and plumbing work for such pools meets code and state safety regulations.

“Pool safety has always been my concern,” said Barnes, who acknowledged that “a lot of people don’t like the idea of an eye in the sky.”

This has raised concerns with privacy advocates as it may be the first use of Google Earth for such a purpose. A Google representative told Newsday she didn’t know of any specific example of Google Earth being used elsewhere as it has been in Riverhead, and did not respond specifically to whether the company had any concerns about how the town used the service.

High-Tech Law Enforcement

Suffolk County sheriff's deputies tested the use of a small plane over the Long Island Expressway this summer to spot bad drivers

While it may only be in it’s infancy, traffic enforcment in New York’s Suffolk County may soon take to the skies as well. The Suffolk County sheriff’s office based out of Riverhead tested the use of a small plane to spot bad drivers earlier this summer. In the trial program tested during morning rush hour over the Long Island Expressway, spotters aboard a plane hovering over the Long Island Expressway looked for aggressive driving and radioed details to deputies below.

Sheriff’s deputies handed out 88 traffic tickets during just one day of trials, based on what the spotters saw from the single-engine plane. Suffolk County has applied to the federal government for funding to purchase the plane for full time use. In the meantime there are plans to conduct future air patrol mission, including one over Sunrise Highway in the near future.

Both Nassau & Suffolk Counties have implemented the use of cameras from above to spot aggressive drivers. The New York State Senate passed a bill in 2009 that allowed for red light cameras to be installed at intersections across the Island to catch motorists who run red lights.

Suffolk County officials announced just last Friday that the first in a series of photo-enforcement systems that capture red light violations is operational at the intersection of Ocean Avenue and the Long Island Expressway South Service Road near Exit 59.

Cameras will capture an 8-second video of the violation along with two photos that identify date, time, vehicle speed, license plate and time the light has been red.

Ring of Steel

A growing number of law enforcement agencies nationwide using the roof-mounted license plate reader, known as the Mobile Plate Hunter.

At least 18 police departments on Long Island, including Nassau County and Suffolk County police, use readers, which cost about $22,000, said North Carolina-based manufacturer Remington ELSAG. More than 220 departments use it nationwide, the company said.

The infrared cameras, which work like supermarket scanners, can record plates of moving or stopped cars.

“We live in a post 9/11 world,” Remington ELSAG president Mark Windover said. “When you look at many domestic terrorism incidents, many times a vehicle is involved.”

Although the device has growing popularity in the United States, the New York Civil Liberties Union noted some potential problems. The group opposes a New York City proposal called the Ring of Steel that would feature a similar license-plate recognition system.

Modeled after the “Ring of Steel” police-camera surveillance system in London, the forthcoming NYPD system – technically called the “Lower Manhattan Security Initiative” – will include thousands of cameras that will track and record the movement of the tens of thousands of vehicles and people entering lower Manhattan every day. The system reportedly will cost $100 million, a portion of which is being provided by the federal government. To date, the NYPD has released no information about what specific information will be collected, what it will be used for, who will have access to it and how long it will be kept.

“The NYPD should not be spending $100 million of public money to install thousands of surveillance cameras that will track law-abiding New Yorkers without any public discussion of this initiative and without clear privacy protections,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, who is leading an NYCLU project that will focus on NYPD surveillance. “Through our information requests, we expect to be able to force the NYPD and the federal government to release information to the public that will allow for a full and informed debate.”

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, “The Ring of Steel is just the latest assault on this country’s historical respect for the right of privacy. Through programs like this, the important line between the police and law-abiding people is being obliterated.”

Lack of Oversight

There is only limited recognition in the law that there are some places into which a surveillance camera is not allowed to intrude. And there are virtually no rules that prohibit police or private entities from archiving, selling or freely transmitting images captured by a video surveillance camera. The courts have yet to address the fundamental privacy and associational rights implicated by the phenomenon of widespread video surveillance.
Philadelphia Police Inspector Thomas Nestel, author of a widely cited study on video surveillance, has warned that “forging ahead with reckless abandon by providing no written direction, no supervision, no training and no regulating legislation creates a recipe for disaster.”

Big Brother truly is watching. Speak out below.

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15 Responses to Eye in the Sky: NY High-Tech crackdown on illegal pools – latest assault on your right to privacy?

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  3. Ruby on August 5, 2010 at 2:38 am

    "Both Nassau & Suffolk Counties have implemented the use of camera’s from above to spot aggressive drivers."

    The plural of camera does not require an apostrophe before the "s". I know I'm a grammar Nazi, but, if you're going to write for a newspaper, you should know that. :-)

    • T|-|3_SR3G on September 2, 2010 at 9:30 pm

      OMG Ruby you are so lame, people such as yourself are insufferable. Seriously. And that happy face at the end…im speechless – its so pathetic im at a loss for words.

      PS – You aren't making yourself appear superior or more knowledgeable than the author in any way, shape or form, which i suspect is your motivation for posting ;-0

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