Badly Wired

In its December 2003 issue, Wired ran a short article entitled "You're Being Watched: Keeping tabs on the private surveillance cams invading public spaces." Written by Patrick Di Justo, it contains several small mistakes: there are (according to our own research) approximately 7,200 surveillance cameras in Manhattan, not 9,000, which is a number that comes out of nowhere; it's true that, in some NYC neighborhoods, only 5 percent of the cameras are operated by government agencies, but, in other neighborhoods, the percentage is as high as 40 percent; and private authorities aren't installing cameras "because they can" or because they "are subject to fewer restrictions and less oversight than public ones" -- there are in fact no restrictions upon and no oversight of any surveillant in America, private or public -- but because they get discounts on their insurance rates if they do. Di Justo's article also concludes with the bizarre advice that we should "fear your own brothers and sisters, not clueless old Uncle Sam," which not only minimizes the very real threats posed (and violations perpetrated) by federal, military and intelligence-gathering agencies, but also repeats the cliche so dear to the proponents of generalized surveillance (we cannot trust our neighbors).

We wouldn't have written and posted this response had Di Justo's article not also been accompanied by an illustration for which one of the listed "sources" is "New York Surveillance Camera Players." At first, this illustration appears to be a group of maps that depict the number of surveillance cameras in (parts of) Manhattan, London, Moscow and Tokyo. For each city, there are three maps, which indicate the ratio of cameras per square mile in 1998 and 2003, and -- based upon these trends -- projections for 2008.

Unfortunately, none of this "information" is accurate. A note from Wired explains that "dots [on the maps] do not connote camera location." Interesting mistake! The writer obviously meant to say that the dots do not denote camera locations, in the way that marks on the maps made by the Surveillance Camera Players denote the locations of publically installed cameras. It would have been more accurate if Wired had simply said: "Dots connote camera locations." But such a phrasing more clearly suggests that a connotative map, one in which dots cannot be coordinated with locations in space, is a fucking waste of time.

The Wired maps say that, in 1998, there were 129.4 cameras per square mile in Manhattan, and 80.6 cameras per square mile in London. This is obviously wrong. New York City has never been more heavily surveilled than London. Quite the opposite! In 1998, British video surveillance had been developing for 5 solid years, while New York surveillance was literally just starting. Even today, after September 11th, there are more cameras in a single part of London -- its financial district -- than in all of Manhattan.

This part of Wired's map is based on research conducted by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which in 1998 counted a total of 2,397 cameras in Manhattan. But the only way 2,397 can average out to 129.4 cameras per square mile is if Manhattan occupies 20 square miles, which it doesn't. Manhattan only occupies 5 square miles; as it turns out, New York City as a whole (all five boroughs) occupies 20 square miles. And so Wired has confused Manhattan with NYC as a whole! Do the math: the real camera-per-square-mile count in Manhattan for 1998 was 480. And, of course, when it moves from 1998 to 2003, the Wired map repeats its mistake: the current average isn't 396.5 cameras per square mile, but 1440.

Note that the rate of increase in Manhattan between 1998 and 2003 is 300 percent. Here, Wired's information is based on research that we have carried out. But note well that, according to Wired, the rate of growth in all of the other cities between 1998 and 2003 is also (exactly) 300 percent. Fact? Incredible coincidence? Neither. Wired has cheated: it doesn't know the actual growth rates in Tokyo and Moscow, and -- instead of saying so -- has pretended that the Manhattan rates must be close. As for London, there's no way its cameras tripled between 1998 and 2003: almost all of its cameras were installed between 1993 and 1998; relatively few have been installed since then.

Wired asks us to believe that Tokyo has only 0.6 cameras per square mile (the least of all four cities). But there must be more than that: in 2001, there was a push from the local government to start installing police cameras in certain "seedy" downtown neighborhoods in Tokyo. Perhaps these cameras were not counted by Wired because of the article's exclusive focus on privately owned cameras. . . .

As for what's really going on in Moscow . . . we have no idea. We suspect that neither does Wired.

--11 November 2003, Surveillance Camera Players.

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