I documented every surveillance camera on my way to work in New York City, and it revealed a dystopian reality

James PasleyFive cameras, one journalist.

America, home of the brave, land of the free, is watching.

Tens of millions of cameras are watching people across the country. The total number of cameras in the world could reach 45 billion by 2022, when the global video-surveillance industry is forecast to reach $US63 billion.

As Arthur Holland Michel, who wrote a book about high-tech surveillance, told The Atlantic in June, “Someday, most major developed cities in the world will live under the unblinking gaze of some form of wide-area surveillance.”

New York City has an estimated 9,000 cameras linked to a system the New York Police Department calls the “Domain Awareness System.” But there are more cameras that aren’t linked to the system.

I documented all the cameras on my daily commute from Brooklyn to our office in Manhattan’s Financial District. Here’s what I found.


When my editor assigned this, I agreed immediately. It was only as I went home that day, noticing all the cameras around me, that I began to realise the truth behind the saying “Ignorance is bliss.”

YouTubeA scene from the film adaption of George Orwell’s ‘1984.’

Cameras monitoring cities are not new. Businesses, police departments, and security firms have long used them for safety. More recently, cameras have become a fixture on phones and cars. Some American cities, like San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley in California, have barred the police from using facial-recognition technology.

Aly Song / ReutersA man looking at surveillance cameras.

Source: Kintronics,New York magazine


But they’re not barred in New York. The NYPD has used facial-recognition software since 2011. Dan Verton, the editor of Homeland Security Today, told the BBC in 2013 that the city’s monitoring is so advanced that it can notice the littlest things, like an unattended bag.

Reuters/Lucas JacksonAn NYPD officer watching video feeds in a security facility in September 2011.

Sources: BBC, New York magazine


In August, the NYPD managed to identify Larry Griffin II, a suspect in a bomb hoax in a Manhattan train station, in about an hour, using several grainy photos matched against millions of others.

NYPDLarry Griffin II.

Source: New York magazine


On the day of the assignment, I woke up, looked at my phone, and checked the news on my laptop. Already I had interacted with two cameras, albeit my own. Outside my apartment, about 15 feet from my door, I saw two more cameras.

James PasleyCameras.

I turned my head around the corner and found another one.

James PasleyAnother camera in my apartment building.

Every step down the four flights of stairs took me past more. There was one camera on each level, adding up to four.

James PasleyThere were cameras in the stairwell too.

As I drew eye level with the camera on the ground floor, I wondered: How often is “big brother” (or my building manager) watching? I passed two more cameras before I reached the exit. By my count that was nine before I’d gotten outside.

James PasleyA camera over the letterboxes.

My first breath of almost-fresh New York air was ruined by a mixture of trash and surveillance.

James PasleyOutside my apartment building.

It was a fittingly grey day to document our well-surveilled society. Another camera watched over storefronts. Over the next 150 feet, two more cameras recorded my movements.

James PasleyA camera near my apartment.

When I turned the corner, the streets were empty, but the recording continued. Over the past year, surveillance on New York’s roads has expanded. The New York Times reported in July that more than 2,000 speed cameras were being set up in 750 areas across the city, close to schools, to help with road safety.

James PasleyA camera on Wythe Avenue.

Source: New York Times


I counted four cameras on my side of the road. Some were positioned abruptly, staring down.

James PasleyA camera staring down.

I saw cameras ruining streetscapes, like this plain wall interrupted by a camera. I walked past six more on this street …

James PasleyA camera on North Fifth Avenue.

… including this amateur job.

James PasleyAnother camera.

Across the road, I spotted cameras that appeared a little more on the DIY side.

James PasleyA less sleek camera watching on.

On my journey through the “surveillance state,” I came across several signs warning the public they were being watched.

James PasleyThe sign says what everyone knows.

Even our children were being watched. It’s worth noting, however, that the footage on many of these cameras is not constantly monitored or stored somewhere for later analysis.

James PasleyChildren are being watched.

Source: New York Times


As I turned onto Bedford Avenue, I was struck cold by the sight of this white camera, which, for some reason, reminded me of “The Terminator.” I saw another four before reaching the train station.

James PasleyA camera on Bedford.

On the platform, I spotted three old cameras, including this one. Because they’re old and chunky, they blended in, and I had to really look to find them.

James Pasley.A camera at the Bedford Avenue L train station.

On the train, I couldn’t see cameras anywhere — so despite barely being able to breathe, let alone move, I felt at peace. There are a few places in New York, like bathrooms and dressing rooms, that are protected from surveillance by the penal code.

James PasleyTaking the train into Manhattan.

Source: City & State New York


I was greeted by the cold steel of a camera the moment I stepped off at Union Square Station.

James PasleyWe meet again, at Union Square Station.

As I wandered around the bottom platform, it became apparent that security officials decided platform ends needed the most surveillance. And they didn’t hold back. While this photo shows four cameras, I counted eight at each end.

James PasleyCameras in Union Square Station.

These cameras might be actively monitored. The NYPD has started watching over 100 cameras to monitor homeless people in a dozen subway stations.

AP/Mark LennihanA homeless person in a New York subway.

Source: The City


Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told The City: “It’s time for New York City to recognise that we have a housing crisis and get serious about building affordable housing and supportive housing for the most vulnerable New Yorkers — not building command centres full of TV surveillance.”

M. Stan Reaves/Pacific Press/LightRocket / GettyDonna Lieberman.

Source: The City


Up on the main level, I decided to get a close-up look at what was inside a camera. But as I went toward one, holding up my phone for a photo, a security guard started walking toward me. So I adopted a mild look of confusion and scurried on.

James PasleyA camera in Union Square Station.

But I still got a photo of the mechanism within.

James Pasley.The inside of a surveillance camera in a subway station.

A little paranoid, I quickly got on a train heading downtown and was again in the gaze of a camera. I got off at Fulton Street Station in Manhattan and saw these two right away. More than 27 million people passed through the transit hub last year.

James Pasley.Cameras in Fulton Street Station.

Source: Metropolitan Transportation Authority


But then I hit this barrage of cameras on the other side of the entry point. It dawned on me: There’s no hope for privacy in this city.

James PasleyMore cameras in Fulton Street Station.

There’s nowhere to hide. As the tech entrepreneur Maciej Ceglowski said in testimony to the US Senate earlier this year, “we cannot opt out of it any more than we might opt out of automobile culture by refusing to drive.”

John Moore/GettyMonitors show feeds from security cameras at the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative in April 2013.

Source: The Guardian


I left the station and headed to work. Fulton Street Station is right by Business Insider’s headquarters, so it’s not much of a walk. But I did spot this camera on the way.

James PasleyA camera on the way to work.

And this one was nestled in one of the pillars by the building’s entrance.

James PasleyA camera outside One Liberty Plaza.

I found another right inside the entrance.

James PasleyA camera in One Liberty Plaza.

Finally, one documented me as I headed to the elevator, making the total I spotted at least 49. As I travelled up to work, I was reminded of Ioannis Pavlidis, a professor of computational physiology at the University of Houston, telling the BBC in 2013, “There’s no escape.”

James PasleyAnother camera.

Source: BBC

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