By Lisa Lucile Owens
As a sociologist who studies surveillance, New York is a very interesting place to be! Following 9/11 there was a build up of surveillance infrastructure across the country. In particular, though, because it is an important global city prone to various kinds of threats, surveillance systems in New York were made very strong. If you ever wondered whether you are being surveilled, data gathering around the city—from CCTV cameras to Stingrays and far beyond—is pretty much a guarantee. Does that mean that you yourself will experience any negative effects of surveillance? Well, that depends.
Surveillance, of course, is partially designed to keep people safe and to prevent further tragedies like 9/11 from happening—these are the positive aspects—but there definitely can be negatives. For example, as part of my research, I interviewed a man of Turkish descent born in this country about his experiences of surveillance. He told me that he’d been stopped several times on the subway when he was carrying large bags for work and was asked to submit to a search. As a sociologist, one of the questions that guides my research is what types of disparate effects surveillance has on people according to social markers.
There is a lot of advocacy around privacy at the moment because our privacy reality changed so quickly. The truth is that we have made a lot of trade-offs for both convenience and safety purposes and we don’t really know what the effect of those tradeoffs will be in the future, or how they will track our personal and group characteristics. This is not to be alarmist! Many of the changes are improvements, but studies like The New York Surveillance Study seek to understand the tradeoffs so that informed law and policy can be adopted.
If you’d like to contribute to The New York City Surveillance Study, please TAKE THE SURVEY! The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete and is open to New Yorkers across the five boroughs.
Also, please visit The New York City Surveillance Study Website for more information.
Guest blog post by Lisa Lucile Owens, sociologist and researcher at Columbia University.