Has the Big Apple Become the Big Eyeball?

Nova York é uma das cidades mais vigiadas por câmeras no mundo.

Mas a tendência é que cada vez mais sejamos cada vez mais filmados no nosso cotidiano.

Tem um grupo ativista que fez uma cartografia com as rotas de menor vigilância em Manhattan:


Mais sobre esse isso aqui.




Has the Big Apple Become the Big Eyeball?

Yana Paskova for The New York Times

WATCHED A tourist bus passes by police surveillance cameras.

Published: May 7, 2010

There’s one, over by the Walgreens entrance, and there’s another, just below the King Tut banner — video cameras, installed by private companies to survey the public spectacle of Times Square. I would not have seen the countless electronic eyes had Christopher Falkenberg, the president of a firm called Insite Security, not pointed them out. But I felt pretty sure those cameras had a clear view of me.

Start looking for them and they really are everywhere: the New York Police Department cameras, which announce themselves with bright insignia; a cluster of three orbs, hanging like fruit outside Blue Fin on West 47th Street and Broadway; a pair of glass spheres stacked outside the Starbucks across the street. Staring into one, I was startled to see something staring back: a lens swiveling toward me for a better view.

In Times Square, perhaps more than any other place in the city, our movements are being recorded a hundred different ways: from a few stories up the side of the Bertelsmannbuilding, from inside the plate glass of the Bank of America branch, as we pass through the turnstiles of a subway station, at the point of purchase in seemingly every store. While the search was still on for the driver of that smoking Nissan Pathfinder, one of the Police Department’s first moves was to review footage from cameras between 51st and 34th Streets — all 82 of them. And those are just the cameras the city owns.

Cities — New York in particular, and Times Square most of all — used to be places to lose yourself in the thrilling anonymity of a crowd, to find yourself reflected in the eyes of strangers. Of course, no one really disappears now; we all leave a trace. But as urban legends go it remains a powerful one. It’s hard to adjust to the idea that cities — New York in particular, and Times Square most of all — are now places where unseen watchers can monitor your every move.

The bomb scare was a stark reminder of the risks New Yorkers take every day and of the crucial role that cameras can play in the first few hours after a crime. But is Times Square ready for its close-up? Am I?

Staring into that shiny oculus outside the Starbucks a few days after the bombing attempt, I figured I was being watched by a sharp-eyed security guard in the building’s basement. Or perhaps an F.B.I. agent was monitoring me — and half the rest of the city — on some master console in a secret Midtown office.

More likely, said Mr. Falkenberg, a former Secret Service agent, no one was paying attention at all. Many closed-circuit cameras are set up just to record, for review as needed. Others are actively monitored, he said, but by people who have been staring at the screen so long they have lost focus — what you might call the airport baggage screener problem.

And forget about collecting all those video streams in one central place, like they do in the Bourne movies. “For the government to tap into multiple proprietary databases — it’s not actually possible without a subpoena,” Mr. Falkenberg said. “Even if you took away all the liability concerns and all the privacy concerns, the video’s not in the same format.”

So much for the ring of steel. But if the cameras fix-mounted on the sides of Times Square buildings were not necessarily doing much, the cameras in the hands of every tourist in sight were working overtime.

Rafael Boldo, 25, and Camila Sierra, 27, visitors from São Paolo, were holding a pink Sony at arm’s length and snapping themselves as they faced south on West 43rd Street. In the background, Mauricio Mutis, of Colombia, and Pietro Basso, of Brazil, both 25 and both advertising students, were taking the last frame of their student project: a stop-motion walk north from Union Square to Times Square. They had captured a good swath of the city in their viewfinder, and they weren’t worried by what they saw. “I feel safe, for some reason,” Mr. Basso said.

Behind them, a news crew from NTN-24, the Spanish-language station, was dismantling its shoot when a commotion arose a few feet away. Someone was screaming, everyone was running. Mario Lopez and his celebrity dimples had been spotted in the flesh. Instantly he was swarmed, as dozens of fans whipped out cellphones and squealed.

If any crime had been committed in Times Square that day, it would have been captured by a thousand cellphone cameras, with the potential to produce an instant Zapruder film in the round. With a few taps, those movies could have been tagged and uploaded to YouTube, where millions of people could scour them for clues.

That’s surveillance far more intensive, and more granular, than anything Walgreens or Bank of America will ever manage. So why doesn’t it feel as creepy? Maybe because its primary target is the Naked Cowboy.

The city’s new plan for increased video surveillance will cost millions, and however helpful it may be in solving crimes, there is no guarantee that it will prevent even one. Meanwhile, the eyes of the world are on Times Square — right there on the ground, squinting through viewfinders and scanning for someone famous.

One story up, the faces of Carrie Bradshaw, Corbin Bleu, Angela Lansbury, the cast of “Hair” and Lady Gaga gaze down from enormous billboards. They’re watching us, too. And they’re smiling.

E-mail: citycritic@nytimes.com

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