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3/27/2006
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NY Police, Privacy Advocates Clash Over Surveillance Cameras

One of many battles is over whether police can take and keep video footage of people participating in political demonstrations.

Police want to surround the Big Apple with a "ring of steel," while the New York Civil Liberties Union claims that the plan infringes on civil liberties.

The New York City Police Department plans to install more than 500 surveillance cameras, expected to cost nearly $10 million. City officials said during a news conference last week that they are trying to recoup some of the costs through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At the same time, the NYCLU is trying to fight the use of video surveillance as a law enforcement tool.

While the NYCLU fights surveillance overall, it is also involved in a battle over whether police can take and keep video footage of people participating in political demonstrations. A federal district court judge will hear arguments in that case, which stems from protests leading up to the Republican National Convention in August 2004. Lawyers on both sides will argue Tuesday whether video recording is legal when no criminal activity is taking place.

In a recent statement regarding the "ring of steel," which is expected to mirror a similar setup in London, the NYCLU said in a prepared statement that the surveillance is "just the latest assault on our society's historic respect for privacy."

The NYCLU reported that there were nearly 2,400 cameras in public places in New York City in 1998. According to local media reports, there are now more than 3,000 trained on public housing projects alone.

City leaders have said more digital surveillance cameras would help protect New York City from terrorist attacks, but civil liberties advocates believe they will photograph license plates of all cars entering certain areas and send the information to databases. A spokesperson for the NYPD was unavailable for comment Monday.

Some New York City cab drivers are also resisting surveillance, though they are not worried about cameras. They are opposing GPS installation.

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