- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Six could be seen peering out from a chain drugstore on Broadway. One protruded awkwardly from the awning of a fast-food restaurant. A supersized, domed version hovered like a flying saucer outside Columbia University.

All were surveillance cameras and — to the dismay of civil libertarians and with the approval of law enforcement — they have been multiplying at a dizzying rate all over Manhattan.

“As many as we find, we miss so many more,” Alex Stone-Tharp, 21, said on a recent afternoon while combing the streets, clipboard in hand, counting cameras in the scorching heat.

A student at Sarah Lawrence College, Miss Stone-Tharp is among a dozen college interns enlisted by the New York Civil Liberties Union to bolster its side of a simmering debate over whether surveillance cameras encroach on privacy, or effectively combat crime and even terrorism.

The interns have spent the summer stalking Big Brother — collecting data for an upcoming NYCLU report on the proliferation of cameras trained on streets, sidewalks and other public spaces.

At last count in 1998, the organization found 2,397 cameras used by a variety of private businesses and government agencies throughout Manhattan. This time, after canvassing less than a quarter of the borough, the interns have spotted more than 4,000.

The preliminary total “only provides a glimpse of the magnitude of the problem,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Nobody has a clue how many there really are.”

But aside from sheer numbers, the NYCLU says it is concerned about the increasing use of newer, more powerful digital cameras that — unlike boxy older models — can be controlled by remote and can store more images.

The group expects to eventually publicize its findings to convince the public that the cameras should be regulated to preserve privacy and guard against abuses such as racial profiling and voyeurism. Privacy advocates have cited a case earlier this year in which a police videotape that captured a suicide at a Bronx housing development later turned up on a pornographic Web site.

The NYCLU plans to post an interactive map on its Web site pinpointing the location of each surveillance camera, and it may include a feature for the camera-shy that would highlight the least-surveilled route between two points.

But the map could be obsolete on arrival.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to spend up to $250 million to install new surveillance cameras in the city’s vast subway system. The New York Police Department also has requested funding for about 400 digital video cameras to help combat robberies and burglaries in busy commercial districts.

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