Ray Kelly: NYPD Will Eye New Midtown Traffic Cameras

Categories: Privacy, Ray Kelly

Privacy? That's so 20th Century.

"We certainly monitor the traffic cameras," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told me today, when I asked him about the 32 video cameras and E-ZPass readers placed throughout Midtown as part of the real-time traffic system Mayor Bloomberg unveiled yesterday, with nary a word about the police peeping in.

It's a great idea - engineers monitoring the roads and wirelessly updating signal patterns to match changing traffic patterns. But the privacy implications of cameras, scanners and 100 microwave sensors to record 23 midtown intersections are both troubling and obvious - and went entirely unmentioned by the mayor in his announcement of the program.

I asked Kelly, who was at the Crain's Future of Manhattan Conference, after the mayor's press office didn't respond to a request for comment sent yesterday about what information on individual drivers would be kept, for how long, and what safeguards if any are in place to protect the privacy of those drivers. Kelly added that while police would use the traffic feeds, that didn't go the other way: traffic engineers won't be tapping into police camera feeds any time soon.

I'm not sure I mind the city collecting or even storing the information, or the police looking in on the camera feeds. I'm troubled, though, by the idea that none of that even warrants mentioning.

"It's long overdue," said "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz, the transportation engineer and former deputy commissioner of the Transportation Department. He predicted that while the system "would reduce the worst days, it won't make the average days much better."

"It's the world we live in," Schwartz said of the privacy questions the cameras raise. "What people don't realize is [E-ZPass readers are] being used on highway across the state" as a way of measuring the speed of traffic. "If you think you're only being read at bridge and tunnel crossings, you're wrong."

hsiegel@villagevoice.com @harrysiegel

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