Are there any blind spots left in New York City?

This study aims to investigate the frequency patterns of appearances of average New Yorkers on closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras in their everyday environment.

The study was conducted as part of a student project and was entirely undertaken by the author/researcher alone. To address the research question, the researcher documented every instance of encountering CCTV surveillance cameras during their daily routine for five business days. Additionally, the researcher attempted to identify the ownership type for each camera based on simple observation, which may not necessarily be entirely accurate.

New York City stands out as a location with extensive street video monitoring. Research from Amnesty International indicates there are approximately 25,000 cameras spread across the city’s five boroughs, with about 56% of them concentrated in Brooklyn and Queens. These cameras are primarily affixed to residential buildings, likely owned, and installed by property management companies.

Understanding the ownership of these cameras since the distinction between public and private spaces is blurred might be crucial aspect, raising questions about when someone has the right to capture images of our faces and bodies on their cameras. While surveillance may offer a sense of security, it also raises concerns about potential violation of privacy.

The final visualization created from the gathered data could serve as an enlightening post for a wider audience, potentially leading them to recognize the frequency of surveillance exposure while being in public

The initial two butterfly bar charts display the distribution of camera encounters on an hourly basis over five business days. These encounters occurred as the reviewer left their apartment building to various destinations as part of their daily schedule. The graphs also indicate the categories of CCTVs(X axis) that were observed along the way. It is evident that the frequency of encountering public and particularly private CCTVs is much higher, which is why the second graph contains more bars and requires scrolling down.

The following horizontal bar chart illustrates the share of different CCTV categories that are more frequently encountered. It is obvious that privately owned surveillance devices were most frequently spotted during the survey.

A donut chart below depicts the locations where the majority of CCTVs were documented.

A straightforward conclusion drawn from both these visualizations is that private cameras are the most widely distributed, with the sidewalk being the primary location for their placement.

The final horizontal area chart displays the timeline of CCTV camera encounters and is a content modification of the first two butterfly charts. The graph is divided into four sections, each corresponding to a different category. A slide bar enables scrolling to the right to observe the daily and hourly encounters of CCTV cameras.

Data collection focused on several variables considered most important by the surveyor to answer the research question:

  1. Date: Month, date, and day of the week when cases were documented.
  2. Time: Hour and minute when the CCTV was spotted.
  3. Category: Supposed type of ownership of the camera, categorized into four groups:
  • Public: CCTVs located in public spaces, such as poles, and apparently publicly owned.
  • Private: CCTVs located inside or outside privately owned elements, like buildings and stores.
  • Public/Commercial: CCTVs located in privately owned public places, such as subway stations owned by bodies like MTA but open to the public.
  • Private/Commercial: Privately owned CCTVs used for apparent commercial purposes, such as those at fast-food places or laundromats.
  1. Site of Location: Site where the reviewer encountered the camera. The donut chart shows the top four sites that were most surveyed, and where the reviewer was within CCTV surveillance coverage for the longest duration.

Bar charts were selected for design purposes to effectively represent all the data points. For example, the butterfly chart was suitable for dividing information between two categories, while the area chart allowed for the observation of event timelines. Soft shades with higher values and low to medium saturation were chosen to mute any potentially alarming color that could be disturbing to the human eye. The remaining aesthetics reflect the personal preference of the reviewer.

In conclusion, the review would be challenging to apply on a larger scale without conducting a more comprehensive survey to gain additional perspectives on the research question. It is evident that in small sections of Brooklyn and Manhattan neighborhoods, privately owned surveillance devices predominantly occupy public spaces especially sidewalks. This trend could be studied at a higher level and could serve as a foundation for public policy development or the establishment of legal or technical frameworks related to privacy.