Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics



  • Drake Fans, NYPD Promos, and the Unregulated New York Surveillance State

    A crime briefing at 1 Police Plaza (photo: Benny Polatseck/Mayoral Photography Office)

    When thousands of New Yorkers went to see Drake at the Apollo last weekend, the last thing they wanted was to see the NYPD recording them, butthat’s just what happened on Saturday as they emerged from the historic theater into the view of officers’

  • Subway Shooting Showcases Surveillance’s Shortcomings

    Command center (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

    They had been planning for this moment for years, for decades, the moment terror took to the train and targeted the beating, rumbling heart of our city. Even prior to 9/11, but especially in its wake, NYPD officials called for billions in investment to prevent and respond to an attack on underground commuter arteries, and they got every penny they wanted. Money poured in to monitor, record, and remember seemingly every aspect of our commuting life, and when a gunman made the unthinkable carnage

  • Surveillance and the City: New York’s Latest Covid Boondoggle Is In Your Pocket

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    Gov. Cuomo talks contact tracing (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)

    With the presidential election behind us, I had started to gain hope that the robotexts of recent weeks would soon end. But on Friday night came a curious new entry to this genre of smartphone spam. It began, “Hi! This is the NYS Department of Health. Download the COVID Alert NY App!” With that message, I knew we had entered a new phase in the fight over contact tracing apps.

    Contact tracing is nothing new. ...

  • Surveillance and the City: Online Bar Exam, Remote Learning Fuel In-Home Surveillance

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    Inside the mayor's digital briefing (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

    Standardized testing has never been fun for students, but in the age of COVID-19, it’s positively nightmarish. As the pandemic forces students and teachers around the globe to stay home, every part of education has suffered, but test administration has completely collapsed. Recently, despite public outcry, more than 10,000 law school graduates sat for the bar exam, putting their careers and livelihoods in the balance. The bar exam used software that was and remains shoddy, invasive, and likely

  • De Blasio Breaks with His Police Department as Council Passes Surveillance Transparency Bill

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    Another chapter between Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

    A long-stalled bill meant to shed light on the surveillance equipment used by the NYPD has suddenly moved through the City Council with the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, despite being virtually unchanged since the mayor and NYPD leaders raised dire alarms about it in recent years. Now de Blasio is breaking with his own police department, which he has maintained has been on board with a slew of recent changes to NYPD oversight and discipline in the wake of national

  • The Case for Touchless Interface Technologies in a Post-COVID-19 World

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    Facial recognition could be useful in the post-coronavirus world (photo: Security Industry Association)

    As a native New Yorker, I am saddened that New York has been hardest hit by the COVID-19 virus. The very way of life for New Yorkers – close living and working conditions, reliance on a round-the-clock crowded mass transit system, a vibrant restaurant and bar scene, movie and live performance theaters, national and international transportation hubs, sporting facilities with tens of thousands of seats and over a million children in the

  • Surveillance and the City: Public Trust Needed for a Public Tracing System

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    Bloomberg and Cuomo team up on contact tracing (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)

    The scene sounds familiar: Michael Bloomberg overseeing thousands of officials tracking where New Yorkers go and who they spend time with, all in the name of keeping us safe. In 2010, it was then-Mayor Bloomberg overseeing tens-of-thousands of NYPD officers as they stopped and frisked New

  • Surveillance and the City: Cuomo’s Coronavirus Coup

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    The Governor has acquired new powers (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)

    It may be Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel who’s famous for saying that you should “never let a good crisis go to waste,” but it’s New York’s Andrew Cuomo who’s taking the adage to heart. For proof, one need only look to the governor’s response to the recent coronavirus outbreak.

    There should be few things less divisive than how we respond to a public health crisis. Increase funding for hospitals? Of course. Reduce barriers to disease testing? Without a doubt. So, when the governor

  • Surveillance and the City: Tracked Until Proven Innocent?

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    NYPD tabletop meeting (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photography Office)

    As advocates of mass incarceration slowly realize they are losing their grip on political power, they are flailing to find new strategies to undermine the state’s recent bail reforms. Under the media-driven, police union-inspired, fear campaign against reform, many advocates of the carceral state are pushing a new form of confinement: ...

  • ‘We Put Them in the Jewish Community to Protect Our People’: City and State Add Permanent Security Cameras to Combat Rise in Anti-Semitism

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    the Mayor, the NYPD & cameras (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

    In response to an increase in reported anti-Semitic hate crimes and violent attacks, New York City and State are simultaneously implementing a permanent increase in surveillance in several predominantly Orthodox Jewish communities.

    The new surveillance technology -- including 100 new NYPD cameras and state-funded cameras and license plate readers -- comes after high-profile attacks in Jersey City and Monsey in the final weeks of 2019 and a multi-year increase in reported hate

  • Surveillance and the City: Cuomo's Camera-On-Every-Corner Boondoggle

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    (photo: Governor's Office)

    Even a terrible product can sometimes do some good. That’s the case for automated license plate readers (ALPRs), the disturbingly prolific tracking tool that have propagated across the country. When Grafton Thomas allegedly attacked a Hanukkah gathering in Monsey last December, ALPRs helped police identify him. It was a high-profile win for the increasingly-controversial technology, which has come

  • Surveillance and the City: Security Theater’s Steep Price

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    (photo: Governor's Office)

    The fear is real. Like so many Jewish New Yorkers, I felt that pang of dread and revulsion when I heard about the deadly shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City. And, as the seemingly endless list of attacks grew, so did my concern about how our community was being targeted. And then, as we prepared to welcome a new decade, this age old bigotry took terrifying new form in the ...

  • Surveillance and the City: Sex, Lies, and Wiretaps

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    (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

    How many of us would think being jailed is a form of help? Not many, I’m guessing. But that’s the twisted rationale faced by countless New York sex workers, forced to endure the constant threat of imprisonment by people who claim it’s “for their own good.”

    At a time when the American political establishment is witnessing a nonpartisan revolt against the waste and destruction of mass incarceration, one area of the carceral state is potentially headed in the wrong direction: the war on sex work. Not only is this puritanical

  • Surveillance and the City: Past Time for the POST Act

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    (photo: William Alatriste & John McCarten/City Council)

    What’s a majority of  51? It should be simple math, but in the world of City Council politics, the numbers don’t always add up. Take the Public Oversight of Surveillance (POST) Act, an NYPD reform bill that has been pending before the Council for over two-and-a-half years.


  • Surveillance and the City: Facing Up to Facial Recognition

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    (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

    Sometimes City Hall politics can be surreal; too much spin can give you a case of political vertigo. But this week was remarkable even by the standards of the de Blasio administration, with talking points that felt like messages from a parallel universe. Time and again, we heard lofty statements about a city committed to protecting its residents’ privacy, a city sadly bearing no resemblance to our own.

    It started when the national facial recognition debate came to the City Council chambers. Months

  • Surveillance and the City: IDNYC’s Not-So-Smart Future

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    (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)

    It’s hard to think that winning your legislative campaign can cause a problem, but when you combine progressive victories with the territorialism of New York politics, you can get disturbing results.

    Case in point, this past legislative session was a triumph for the immigrant rights movement across New York State. We enacted the Dream Act, securing in-state tuition for undocumented New Yorkers. We

  • Smells Like Teen Surveillance

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    (photo: Philip Kamrass/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

    Picture a student sprinting to math class, late for a test after sleeping through the alarm.  Hair disheveled, backpack open, their heart is racing. But in an instant this quintessential scene morphs into something far more dangerous as the student is faced with armed police officers, aiming their guns, demanding the student lie down on the ground.

    This is the grim prospect for the students of Lockport, New York, whose school district is the latest to stumble headlong into the national surveillance

  • Take Down Cuomo’s Creeping Cameras

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    (Photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)

    For nearly a year, activists have raised alarm-bells about how New York is creating the digital equivalent of widespread “stop & frisk” -- expansive new surveillance systems. One of the latest missteps comes from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who last July launched an MTA facial recognition program to scan drivers as they cross bridges and tunnels. For months, simply