Cameras in the New York City Subways

New York City is spending $212 million on surveillance technology: 1,000 video cameras and 3,000 motion sensors for the city’s subways, bridges, and tunnels.

Why? Why, given that cameras didn’t stop the London train bombings? Why, when there is no evidence that cameras are effectice at reducing either terrorism and crime, and every reason to believe that they are ineffective?

One reason is that it’s the “movie plot threat” of the moment. (You can hear the echos of the movie plots when you read the various quotes in the news stories.) The terrorists bombed a subway in London, so we need to defend our subways. The other reason is that New York City officials are erring on the side of caution. If nothing happens, then it was only money. But if something does happen, they won’t keep their jobs unless they can show they did everything possible. And technological solutions just make everyone feel better.

If I had $212 million to spend to defend against terrorism in the U.S., I would not spend it on cameras in the New York City subways. If I had $212 million to defend New York City against terrorism, I would not spend it on cameras in the subways. This is nothing more than security theater against a movie plot threat.

On the plus side, the money will also go for a new radio communications system for subway police, and will enable cell phone service in underground stations, but not tunnels.

Posted on August 24, 2005 at 1:10 PM75 Comments


Andrew Greene August 24, 2005 1:31 PM

I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the cameras in London. Did they provide the police with evidence that was useful after the first attacks and the failed second attacks to trace the terrorists and disrupt additional attacks? (I don’t know the answer, I’m just observing that they may not have been useless just because they didn’t prevent the 7/7 attack from succeeding.)

Bruce Schneier August 24, 2005 1:44 PM

Yes, cameras did provide evidence after the fact in London. But what I haven’t seen any evidence of is that they provided evidence after the fact that was indespensible, or could not be gotten some other way. It’s not enough for cameras to be useful; they need to be more useful than altenate ways to spend the money.

Zwack August 24, 2005 1:45 PM

The Question isn’t whether the cameras provided evidence after the attacks, but whether the $212 million could be put to better use in other ways.

Would $212,000,000 provide better intelligence to stop attacks happening in the future?

Would $212,000,000 provide better emergency services to respond to such attacks and save the lives of more people?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I would want my civic leaders to look at the options before spending $212,000,000 on anything.


Joe Buck August 24, 2005 1:48 PM

It does appear that the cameras in London helped the cops quickly round up and arrest the second team of bombers, those whose bombs failed to go off, as well as helped them track down who did the first bombing.

So the cameras won’t stop an attack from happening, but they will help tell who did it.

However, the price that New York is paying seems inflated. $212 million for a total of 4,000 cameras or sensors is $53 thousand
per device. That seems like too much money.

321 August 24, 2005 1:50 PM

7/7 was a minor event without
any cause than a lot of public
payed tax_money is thrownout
of expensive cam-windows;and
that’s exactly what the foo wants.

IO ERROR August 24, 2005 2:05 PM

Suicide bombers don’t care about cameras. Why should they? They’ll be DEAD. My question is, what’s a better way to spend this money?

deidentified August 24, 2005 2:12 PM

It does NOT appear that the cameras in London helped the cops to quickly round up and arrest ANY of bombers er criminals. Said criminals were identified only after one of the mothers phoned the police informing them their son was missing, fearing the worst with one thing leading to the other, i.e. arrests of those who helped assist/commit the crimes. And the second set of criminals were known to police from connections to the first set and that they all happened to live, work, play together… the rest is history. Stop creating fictions and get it right. Quite right about 212,000,000 USD for a sham security blanket which will not prevent future criminal acts but likely take away American Rights, Freedoms & Privacy. Note there is no evidence CCTV evidence has reduced, removed, prevented crimes anywhere. Read the criminal studies, only likelihood of capture and proportional sentencing have any real impact on crime. But wait these gents don’t care ’cause they’ll kill people and themselves.

jammit August 24, 2005 2:33 PM

If I were a bomber, I’d walk in, look for a camera, show my bomb, give the finger, and get ready for the virgins. Camera, shmamera nothing.

Kevin August 24, 2005 2:38 PM

Some perspective:

There are 468 subway stations in NYC. For $212 M, an additional security guard can be added to every single station around the clock, for the next six years (assuming salary of $30,000).

As a terrorist, which would you feel is the bigger disincentive to try to attack a the NYC subway system: the current security plus a bunch of cameras at each station, or the current security at each station plus a single security guard who has one task: search for and attempt to stop potential terrorists, while noting all suspicious activity.

Mook August 24, 2005 2:40 PM

Joe, the $212 million isn’t just for 4,000 cameras/sensors. The cameras are just one part of a larger surveillance system, as Bruce mentioned at the end of his write-up (“On the plus side, the money will also go for…”). Without knowing the breakdown of the budget, it’s a bit premature to go calculating the cost-per-device.

deidentified August 24, 2005 2:42 PM

Let’s see where should one spend the money, say NGO’s in the Middle East, Africa, & Asia which specifically and directly affect targetted populations of poverty stricten ‘non-western er democratic’ countries which would go a long way to promoting human values, concerns, welfare, democracy policy?

deidentified August 24, 2005 2:45 PM

Where did these problems come from? Think about the solutions, the consequences and the impacts. Still thinking inside the box. Get out of it. Remember a failure of creativity & imagination is what has brought the world to this point.

T Beachon August 24, 2005 2:45 PM

If it won’t stop them then it’s not worth it. Sure you could use the information in finding out about them and perhaps finding links to others. But you won’t find out about the until it’s too late. But if you think that one successful attack is ok so that you can gather more info then cameras are ok. Personally I prefer gathering info without terrorists blowing up bombs first.

peachpuff August 24, 2005 3:09 PM

I’d say this belongs in the “agenda” category. Cameras are safer and more convenient for the security people themselves. Instead of walking down a tunnel that might be bombed, they sit in a back room watching screens. Someone else pays the bill and gives up some privacy.

Davi Ottenheimer August 24, 2005 3:12 PM

As I’ve stated every other time you rail against cameras, Bruce, surveillance provides detective controls not preventative controls.

The preventative effects from cameras are due to the social engineering associated with them, and not from the technology itself. So if you are arguing against the social engineering, I would tend to agree with the rediculous price tag in this case. But if you are arguing against cameras as a detective control, or against video surveillance used as evidence, I really do no think you’re providing a clear picture of how technology can actually enhance controls and reduce risk.

I do not disagree that there might be better preventative measures than these detective ones, but I do not dismiss cameras as a viable technology just because preventative measures (such as access controls or identity management) need enhancement.

TS August 24, 2005 3:49 PM

After the second London incident, any terrorist with any competence at all is going to rigourously test his kit such that to all intents and purposes it is 100% reliable. What, then, are the cameras supposed to show? At best only the most utterly incompetent wannabes who are, by definition, the least dangerous ones.

Furthermore, life being what it is, with cameras all over the place, how long will it be before someone starts selling t-shirts with what looks like a suicide bomber’s bomb round the waist and it becomes the height of fashion for rebellious teenagers to show these off to the cameras at every available opportunity?

America, if you really want to learn anything from London’s experience, learn that the only things these cameras will clamp down on is your wallet and your liberty. You have a written Constitution for a reason. Now is fast becoming that reason.

Paul O August 24, 2005 3:54 PM

@ Bruce, “But what I haven’t seen any evidence of is that they provided evidence after the fact that was indespensible, or could not be gotten some other way.”

You haven’t seen any pictures of the 7/21 bombers? Or what other way do you have in mind that the police could have obtained images of these bombers with their bombs?

Of course, you believe that this evidence was useless in identifying the bombers, or at least not indispensible. On what possible grounds can you hold that view?

You acknowledge that not all the money is going to cameras. Why are you seeming to argue that zero dollars go to surveillance?

@ deidentified: “And the second set of criminals were known to police from connections to the first set and that they all happened to live, work, play together… the rest is history.”

No. The connections were only determined after the second set of criminals were identified … by the use of the surveillance footage. They didn’t live or work anywhere near the first bombers. And remember, their initial claims were that there were mere “copycats” and didn’t have any ties to the first bombers.

Bob Dobolina August 24, 2005 4:10 PM

@ Davi

I agree with you – “provides detective controls not preventative controls.” What concerns me is just how effective 1000 cameras can be as a detective control?

From my experience with cameras systems, a single security guard has a difficult time operating video cameras and assessing video on more than three cameras simultaneously. It seems that it would take a large labor force to actively monitor these cameras.

Additionally, you have to develop a storage scheme that will save video data “pre-event,” as well as “post-event.” From experience – 1000 cameras sending video data requires alot of storage.

I’m not against the idea of cameras, but I’d really have to say that this is overkill.

In my opinion, the most successful implementation of a camera would be an instance where “NO” activity should occur – perhaps at remote sites (launch facilities).

Bruce Schneier August 24, 2005 4:14 PM

“You haven’t seen any pictures of the 7/21 bombers? Or what other way do you have in mind that the police could have obtained images of these bombers with their bombs?”

You’re asking the wrong question. The question is not whether the police oculd have obtained images of those bombers with their bombs. The question is whether the police could have identified the bombers without the cameras. Or, better yet, if you had $212 million to spend on New York City subway security, you would say: “The best possible thing we can do with that money is ensure that, after a terrorist attack, we have pictures of the bombers with their bombs.”

“Of course, you believe that this evidence was useless in identifying the bombers, or at least not indispensible. On what possible grounds can you hold that view?”

The fact that the pictures did not identify the bombers, and that bombers were identified when a mother called the police about her missing son.

I’m not arguing that the pictures were useless. But I have seen no evidence that the lack of them would have hampered the investigation in any meaningful way, and that there’s absolutely no counterterrorism effort that’s a better use of the money.

Bryan August 24, 2005 4:17 PM

I think the article is a bit misleading. The whole $212M isn’t going for cameras. While you do note that in the last sentence, Bruce, the rest of the article leads people to think otherwise (as comments here show!).

Secondly I don’t think it’s enough to say cameras are bad security, unless you can say what good security you’d replace them with – or at least give a more definitive reason they’re bad. I think I may understand the part you didn’t say – which is that they provide no deterrence effect for someone who plans to /die/ during his bombing run.

Still, in the absence of better alternatives, if I had the money to spend, then yes I’d spend it on cameras. They may not stop the bomber, and of course once he’s dead we don’t need his picture to find him. But if the cameras provide any help in identifying the bomber, his methods, or even ‘just’ the other casualties, they have provided something of value.

Show something that provides more value, either as deterrence or after-the-fact clues, and I’m sure you’ll get NYC’s attention!

Bruce Schneier August 24, 2005 4:20 PM

“As I’ve stated every other time you rail against cameras, Bruce, surveillance provides detective controls not preventative controls.”

And I’ve never disagreed with you. And there is value to forensics, although that’s not where I’d spend my money.

But the people installing these cameras have a different view.

From the New York Times article:

“‘We will try everything, and deploy all technologies possible, to prevent an attack from happening,’ said Katherine N. Lapp, the authority’s executive director.”

From the Wasington Post article:

“‘We will be on the cutting edge of this technology in order to protect our system against terrorist attack,’ said Katherine N. Lapp, the authority’s executive director.”


“‘We hope (this) will detect the terrorists before an incident happens, not just be able to report for forensic purposes after an incident happens and identify who the terrorist is,’ MTA Executive Director Katherine Lapp said at a news conference.”

Someone’s just not thinking properly.

Paul O August 24, 2005 5:00 PM

@ Bruce, 4:14, “The fact that the pictures did not identify the bombers, and that bombers were identified when a mother called the police about her missing son.”

No, you’re confusing the 7/21 bombers with the 7/7 bombers. It was the 7/7 bombers who police could focus on security footage of certain individuals after one of the mothers called about her missing son. In the 7/21 incident, many friends and relatives have been charged with harbouring after they failed to provide police with accurate information after the release of the photos.

You’re right that the photos did not directly identify the bombers. But they directly led to that identification: even in the 7/7 incident, all police had from the mother’s call was a missing person. Looking at the footage identified his arrival as part of a group, and the group’s subsequent dispersal to the site of each incident.

It was your words which suggested that this information was available in some other way. And I’m still wondering what other way you had in mind.

Davi Ottenheimer August 24, 2005 5:05 PM

“From my experience with cameras systems, a single security guard has a difficult time operating video cameras and assessing video on more than three cameras simultaneously. It seems that it would take a large labor force to actively monitor these cameras.”

Technology significantly reduces this very valid problem with cameras. The network video recorders today are far more sophisticated at archiving, searching, detecting and alerting with regard to anomalous behavior.

T Beachon August 24, 2005 5:06 PM

Cameras would work as security/prevention against muggers, robbers, rapists, theifs and speed drivers but they don’t work against someone who already has decided that they are going to blow themselves up. If they already has decided to take their lives then nothing matters anymore.

They could be used to find out who the terrorists were and maybe find the people connected, but they won’t be able to stop the act.

Personally I find it more important to stop them then to be able to identify them after they have already blown themselves up.

Rob Mayfield August 24, 2005 5:13 PM

People will tend to congregate where the cameras are because ‘its safer there’; it will make them a better target. With more people in a more tightly concentrated area the terrorists can use a smaller bomb to do the same level of damage, which is easier to hide and thus less easily detected by the cameras.

Davi Ottenheimer August 24, 2005 5:14 PM

@ Bruce

Ok, aside from the fact that the price-tag needs serious clarification, I think the quotes you chose are illustrative of two issues:

First If the people quoted really believe that cameras, all alone, are capable of preventing attacks, then you are right to ridicule them. In fact, I hate to say it but the phrase “dead wrong” comes to mind.

However, on the other hand I find it hard to imagine that people really believe in cameras as a single control solution. Most everyone in surveillance knows that you start with clues often from other triggers or controls and you have to integrate the system with some kind of enforcement/response mechanism. With this in mind, “detect the terrorists before an incident happens” is really a gross oversimplification. A more realistic, although perhaps no more palatable, phrase would be “efficiently locate/monitor known terrorists and detain them prior to an incident”.

Davi Ottenheimer August 24, 2005 5:28 PM

“1000 cameras sending video data requires alot of storage”


It’s usually just a simple calculation to determine the frames per second, image quality, etc. in order to arrive at a 30-60 day retention window (which is typical for surveillance) along with an archival mechanism for case-specific video.

A much bigger issue is actually who will have access to the repository and what it can be used for. Similar to any other massive store of data, the owners need to be wary of michevious or malicious exposure. So the question really becomes what is a reasonable balance between retention for an investigation versus risk of a breach. For example, if investigators are held to only fourteen days of data, then storage is less of a concern…

Vijay August 24, 2005 5:30 PM

Jammit – it’s a mistake to think that the average “security guard” for the NYC subway would cost the city $30k a year in salary. That “security guard” would have to be the government’s security guard , a NYPD officer who would be paid, at minimum, after training costs, $32,700 and would increase to $59,588 after 5.5 years. That cost does not include the $12,550 that would be spent training the guard, the cost of equipment, the cost of overtime pay, the costs of medical/dental/vision benefits, the costs of their pension plan, the costs of vacation and sick leave, or any administrative costs. I’m ignoring the costs of hiring their superior officers and many other costs, I’m sure. $212 million will probably staff those stations for a year. And that assumes that you can find the people willing to do it and that they would be effective at all.

Not directly related to your comments, I’m still confused as to why CCTV cameras take away our mythical privacy rights. I walk down the streets of New York and I expect to be constantly on camera, and in many cases, I am. If I walk by a drugstore, a bank, or post office, a department store – basically any institution short of the local bodega, I’m on camera. Perhaps it would be useful to be able to review the tapes, even after an attack or an attempted attack to find out with whom an attacker associated himself.

I think that the subways are terribly difficult to defend. For one, there are a LOT of stations. Each station probably has at least 4 entrances. Perhaps there are better ways to avoid ever having an attack on the subway station. I’m quite sure that those ways would cost a lot more money. Mook pointed out, and rightly so, that $212mm would go a long way towards helping NGOs. However, I don’t think that our spending on security should affect our funding of NGOs nor do I believe that an additional $212mm spent on NGOs will prevent an attack or provide any preventative or forensic evidence in the case of attack or an attempt. Let’s be honest – the only way the cameras are useful in any way other than a forensic or prosecutorial way would be if the attack failed. If the attack succeeds, we’re going to need a lot of tape.

By the way, NYPD officers work in pairs.

Davi Ottenheimer August 24, 2005 5:41 PM

@ Vijay

“the only way the cameras are useful in any way other than a forensic or prosecutorial way would be if the attack failed”

No, as I was trying to explain above a detective control can actually help prior to an attack by alerting the system to engage with preventative controls.

This is kind of like saying profiling does not prevent an attack. Strictly speaking that is true, but if profiling leads to the detection of imminent threat and enables pro-active response.

But while I am trying to explain the differences, I am in no way arguing for the cost-effectiveness of detective controls, as they depend on the accuracy of detection, which unfortunately is not yet as good as we would hope.

V August 24, 2005 5:41 PM

re NYC subways, watch “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” again (no it’s not a documentary, but pretty plausibly done). Cameras would’ve done nothing – and these guys were planning to live. If someone were looking at cameras on 4 different stations over a period of 10 minutes, and correlated a guy on each station getting onto same train with a bulky package – that would’ve helped. But that’s not doable. A single guy who doesn’t have to carry a bulky package – forget it!

Vijay August 24, 2005 5:58 PM

@Davi – I’m not saying that it’s entirely unfeasible to be preventative. However, I suspect that by the time you realize that you have something to worry about, it may already be too late. Then again, I’m not well versed in detection.

peachpuff August 24, 2005 6:13 PM

“Not directly related to your comments, I’m still confused as to why CCTV cameras take away our mythical privacy rights.”

It’s really a power thing. If I’m watching and recording you on camera, and you can’t even see me, I have you at a disadvantage. It’s a small disadvantage if I’ve got a single camera that’s basically watching my stuff in case you steal it. It’s a large disadvantage if I have blanket coverage of the subway you take to work and use a small army to enforce laws covering nearly every area of your life.

I don’t know if “privacy” is the right word, but they’re using information to dominate ordinary people.

Francois August 24, 2005 6:26 PM

Call me cynical, but I suspect the money is just a political favor. Someone will be scratching someone else’s back. Convincing the public this is a good idea is just icing on the cake. Unfortunately, facts don’t sell papers. Wonder what the real story is.

Student August 24, 2005 7:01 PM


“Not directly related to your comments, I’m still confused as to why CCTV cameras take away our mythical privacy rights.”

It’s really quite simple. When on camera, you are being watched. Your every action is monitored and recorded: where you are going, who you’re with, what you’re carrying on you, your departure / arrival time… and so on. In a way it’s data mining. Attractive young women make particularly prime targets for spying, and voyeurism has been a fairly serious issue for some time. People have a right to expect a reasonable amount of privacy, even in a place as public as a subway.

Information is power, pure and simple. And power corrupts.

Chung Leong August 25, 2005 12:28 AM

I’m surprised no one has yet mentioned how tapes from CCTV will help the investigation into the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. Without them the London police would continue to…recollect incorrectly about what happened.

Chung Leong August 25, 2005 1:05 AM

@Paul O

“You haven’t seen any pictures of the 7/21 bombers? Or what other way do you have in mind that the police could have obtained images of these bombers with their bombs?”

You forgot to use “alleged.” Then again, so did much of the British press–even such progressive bastions as the BBC.

Images are very suggestive and human memory is malleable. The surveillance photos released by the police only showed four dark-skinned men. Yet here you are, talking about “these bombers with their bombs.” I have to agree with Bruce in questioning their usefulness. After being exposed to them witnesses will have as good a chance leading the police down the wrong path as the right one.

Hard to believe as it might be, there is still the possible that those arrested could be innocent. After all, the London police is not infallible.

John Lettice August 25, 2005 1:52 AM

The cameras in London may have had some value in terms of identification, and possibly quite a lot in the case of the ‘mistake’, but it’s worth factoring the volume of tapes the police are haviing to deal with. In the days after the second attack I watched the numbers climb steadily, and about five days on the reports were that they had 35,000 tapes just for the period of the second incident to look at. RSN they’re going to be forced to examine the bangs per buck they get from this stuff, or police forces will break.

Weird side effect of CCTV – I heard of somebody who busted on the tube for walking down the stairs with his baseball cap at a suspicious angle.

Paul O August 25, 2005 1:59 AM

@CL, 1.05am: I’ll admit that those arrested could be innocent. But those in the photos are shown with strong evidence of their guilt. Those arrested may well not be those in the pictures: that’ll be for a court to determine. That’s at least part of the difference Bruce was alluding to: the pictures do not identify people; they merely show images.

@ the larger discussion:
Let’s put this money into at least some context.

Estimates suggest that NYC has been spending an average of $5 million every week in increased security costs for their higher state of alert since 9/11. This is on top of whatever they spend on security normally, some fraction of which would cover subway (and general antiterrorism) security. And on top of whatever the Port Authority, FBI, CIA, military intelligence, justice department, homeland security, and other agencies spend (pro-rated for NYC’s 8 million population; possibly weighted for threat assessments).

The $212 million being discussed is split in some (unpublished) fraction between (1000) CCTV camera systems (presumably including recording systems), motion sensors, cellphone service in 277 underground stations, installation, and presumably some maintenance and perhaps even monitoring. Over a three-year period. If we generously assume for the sake of argument that it’s all spent on cameras, that’s $70.7 million a year – a fraction of NYC’s $260 million a year in direct incremental security costs.

And an even smaller fraction of the total security spending, which remains focused on identifying potential terrorists before they have a chance to strike.

How many billions need to be spent on manpower, which is gone the instant it’s used, before a few million can reasonably be spent on infrastructure? If we put three cameras at each of 333 sites, how much will we have spent? If we put a single guard at each of those 333 sites (8 hours coverage out of 24 (less breaks), five days a week out of seven, 50 weeks a year out of 52), at an average manpower cost of (say) $50K per person, we’ve spent $16.65 million and have to spend it all over again starting the next year. 24/365? At least $72M/year for a single pair of eyes and a brain. (And we’ve ignored holidays.)

We could debate how many guards can be redeployed to other tasks than memorizing the face of each and every commuter, but it seems clear that some redeployment would be possible. (Without redeployment, this is purely incremental spending, and we can only assess marginal spending against redeployment – or tradeoff – spending.) And that even allowing one guard from each of those locations to focus on higher-value activities for eight hours a day would pay for the cameras within just a few years. Indeed, using the numbers above, if we assume that half of the total spend is on cameras, that would be covered by 16 man-hours per day redeployable to more productive tasks.

I would find it much easier to argue that 1000 cameras (just a few per site) is not nearly enough to provide the most basic level of security expected of them. But apparently, some feel it’s way over the top.

So really, what is the problem?

Ref (for $5M/week spend in NYC):

dph August 25, 2005 2:41 AM

I’d be interested to know how you would rather spend the $212m Bruce if CCTV is not effective? What would be a good use of $212m to fight crime and terrorism?

DarkFire August 25, 2005 2:52 AM

Again some excellent points by everyone. I’d like to add some observations:

1) CCTV cameras are a ubiquitous feature of modern inner-city life. To say that in this day & age being recorded on CCTV detracts from some form of human rights really is fighting the tide. Like them or loathe them, here to stay they are.

2) In addition to providing evidence after the fact for terrorist cases, they have a measurable and documented impact on mundane crime figures – as T posted above, the thief / robber / rapist is detered by them to a greater or lesser extent. Even in cases where they are not, the cameras pose an easy method of identity. True, DNA and fingerprints are available, but to the average partolling copper in the street, a pictrue is by far the best ID.

3) As an aside – CCTV helps to protect the average citizen from any police excesses. There is nothing in British law that precludes solicitors and barristers from supoenering (hah- my spelling!!) CCTV footage and then using it in a civill case against specific Police officers. This technique is in fact becoming a regular method of defence in criminal cases.

4) Assuming that the NY tube & subway system has at least some CCTV capability in place, I would personally spend the money on the following:

a) More trained, capable intelligence staff.

b) Train more investigators & recruit more experienced staff in to anti-terrorist investigative bodies such as the FBI CT unit or equivalent.

c) The proposed new radio system for the underground cops is a superb idea- as long as it’s compatable with those of the other emergency services.

So personally I think that spending the cash solely on CCTV would be unwise, but I’ll reserve judgement until the budget breakdown is published.

Depressed August 25, 2005 4:26 AM

@ Darkfire
“2) In addition to providing evidence after the fact for terrorist cases, they have a measurable and documented impact on mundane crime figures – as T posted above, the thief / robber / rapist is detered by them to a greater or lesser extent. ”

Actually, most of the research done in the UK has shown that CCTV does not reduce serious crime like muggings, rapes etc., it just moves it out from the the centre of cities to the suburbs. It does have a limited effect on drinking related crimes (as the bars/clubs are mostly in the city centres) however it is more effective for prosecuting than preventing them.

Eli livoviz August 25, 2005 4:42 AM

Terrorism is not the only threat one should protect from.
Here in Jerusalem about 10-15 years ago the habit of stabbing residents (or pass byers) of the old city was quite frustrating. The police setted cameras all over the Muslim quarter and now there are almost none. Moreover the crime rate was greatly reduced since they knew they can be easily caught. Maybe it is this blessed side effect of the cameras that was wanted.

JD August 25, 2005 9:19 AM

A lot of terrorism could be deterred at practically zero cost. Make it a very public policy, broadcast worldwide, that all bodily remains of dead terrorists shall be fed to hogs, thereby assuring that the afterlife will be filled not with horny virgins, but an eternity buried up to the neck in pig poop.

Eric K. August 25, 2005 9:53 AM

You feel someone tap you on your left shoulder. You turn to look and nobody’s there. Haha, joke’s on you, very funny. You go back to what you were doing.

You feel another tap on your left shoulder. You look again, still nobody there.

You feel a tap on your shoulder again, so you go out and spend TWO HUNDRED AND TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS for a system to watch your LEFT shoulder for you.

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just look around?

DarkFire August 25, 2005 10:09 AM

slaps head in recognition of personal stupidity

Of course, CCTV does produce crime displacement, on whatever scale the cameras are deployed. As we all do, I was merely thinking from my perspective (not on my patch = not happening). How clever of me…

I agree that CCTV is most often used as a prosecution tool than as a crime prevention tool. Nevertheless, it is useful, so long as one has all the other required infrastructure in place i.e. intelligence, investigative capability etc.

deidentified August 25, 2005 10:48 AM

CCTV surveillance is becoming uibiquitous so there?! That’s quite an argument. To hell with one’s rights & freedoms (er privacy & security of person/public/state). What happens in the future when the info is linked/matched to other large scale surveillance systems (e.g. REALID, RFID in license plates, DNA/biometric id, passport/visa ids, internet IPs, GPS/CELL INs)? Now, and in the future do and should/will people really desire to give up their fundamental right to be left alone if they are not doing anything unlawful? Then people will be living in a ‘Minority Report’ world where “suspicion” becomes the norm and “reason” is thought of as some quaint old thingy of the past. Where does it stop?

jammit August 25, 2005 10:57 AM

Feeding dead terrorists to pigs would reduce the number of Islamic faithed terrorists, but would only increase non Islamic faith terrorists. As far as I know, except for the 9/11 thing, most acts of terrorism against the US were from your standard white Christian.

DarkFire August 25, 2005 11:35 AM

@ deidentified:

…fundamental right to be left alone if they are not doing anything unlawful?

I wish to say this as calmly as possible, but… Yopu will be left alone so long as you’re not engaged in any illegal activity.

Now I know that the above phrase is of course open to interpretation, but in my personal experience it is nevertheless true.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but here in the UK at least the judiciary is sufficiently indepenadnt to provide a decent “check & balance” to the elected legislators in Parliament. There are examples of this – the Anti Terrorism Crime & Security Act of 2001 that had a time limit of 12 months actually written in to the act. There are others…

As a general comment, & please- I honestly don’t mean to have a go at anyone, but this concept of some huge conspiracy to clandestinely strip the populace of their “rights” is to me completely incongruouse. I really do fail to understand what I see as frankly baseless hysteria. Again I don’t wish to be overly provocative here, but honestly – I for one am far too busy doing important things to worry about who drives where, what they buy, even who they’re having an affair with etc. etc.

As far as government agencies go, this really, genuinely isn’t happening!

Now data mining by private corporations & companies is quite another thing. I bvelieve there is a genuine requirement for tighter control of this sort of activity, other than the Data Protection Act we have at present.

deidentified August 25, 2005 12:08 PM

Ok lets avoid provocative statements. They’re simply not fruitful anyway. Actually I agree with you totally that public institutions, being subject to legal, legislative, and judicial, and third party oversight, are in fact the only instruments available at executing their powers & controls to the appropriate democratic degree (as authorized :-). Now the private sector is another matter. What happens when more and more information is handled on behalf of governments by outsources? What would justify allowing any state authority or their delegate to order delivery of information about a party, person or group for which it normally would not have or be able to possess, save for a judge/court order (whether secret or not). The issue with above is that is simply not the case today, that appropriate constraints exist like you say for sunset conditions or renewal clauses to address the fact that these environments change sometimes substantially, with new orders in Council in Britain, Canada and or the US (see applicable ACTS which seem to be somewhat out of date by the time the ink is dry and the policies/practices come out). I doubt if the public is has the capacity or ever will be well-informed enough about what the states are doing with their information (see all purported stories about disclosure, leakage, loss, inappropriate use/theft) when they are asked to give up their privacy for security or convenience wihtout the proviso that the various silo’s of data will not be used for some unknown purpose in the future. Security is usually addressed first then Privacy. Privacy can not be had without the appropriate safeguards. Privacy is still generally designed er bolted on afterwards which makes data mining/linking-matching very easy to do with the right resources.

Peter Pearson August 25, 2005 1:10 PM

England has shown that cameras are a useful diagnostic tool, like an endoscope: we’re troubled by occasional, violent symptoms, and solid, pertinent facts are rare, so endoscopy provides useful information. We’re not suffering from a well known condition for which a saliva test gives a solid diagnosis; we’re afflicted with something we understand poorly, and we need insight into its workings.

How long did US investigators work to identify the 19 hijackers of 2001.09.11? By my (faint) recollection, weeks; and I don’t know how much confidence to place in the results. With their cameras, the Brits identified their bombers in a couple of days, with high confidence. Without cameras, you have a speculative connection between a bombing and a missing-son report. With cameras, you’ve established that fact, you can save the cost of casting about for alternative perpetrators, and you can move ahead not just quicker but with greater confidence. As a bonus, you have concrete observations of the workings of the system you’re trying to understand.

Pretending that this information is worthless is unbecoming, Bruce. Arguing about the price is OK. As for the assertion that it can be gotten by other means, . . . I haven’t been privileged to see the quality (or the price) of the evidence collectable by other means, so I’d have to ask somebody involved in that work . . . but . . . aren’t they the people asking for cameras?

DM August 25, 2005 2:28 PM

I know some posters have mentioned the use of video to clarify the murder of the brazillian dude in London, but as far as I know, the story is still that all the cameras were inoperable at the time, and that no-one is admitting to the existance of any video.

NOP August 25, 2005 2:50 PM

Hmmm a proposal of better use of 212Millions.

Give them to your president to stop making GAS WARS. And noone will bomb you 🙂 You asked for it.
Your goverment makes everything to provoke terrorists. Unfortunetly they made other countries follow them .. so now they are targets too.. man .. if someone comes in your country and starts killing and destroying … what would you do?

Fight the couse not the consequences.

Chung Leong August 25, 2005 10:23 PM

@Paul O

“I’ll admit that those arrested could be innocent. But those in the photos are shown with strong evidence of their guilt.”

I haven’t seen any picture of someone carrying a bomb. Those that I have seen showed guys with backpacks and guys wearing sweatshirts. If London police were so sure that those in the pictures were the bombers, then they must have other evidence to back up their claim. That’s backward from what people are saying: the pictures didn’t show the police who the bombers were; the police released the pictures to the media because they knew who were the bombers.

Chung Leong August 26, 2005 9:11 AM

Another thing I want to add is that if the 7/21 scenario were to happen in New York, the NYPD would have the good sense not to release the pictures to the public before the men’s arrest. America is a nation of gun-totting do-it-yourself-ers. Many innocent people could end up dead.

CJ Costello August 26, 2005 9:35 PM

I have to hope that the quotes of the MTA Executive Director are not an accurate reflection of MTA’s plans for the camera network. You cannot detect terrorists with cameras. Reaction time is not fast enough to prevent a suicide bomber if you did. False alarms for detecting abandoned packages will kill that part of the system. I do not see how this system can prevent terrorism.

Ari Heikkinen August 28, 2005 3:48 PM

Well, cameras can be a deterrent, that is, when people know there’s cameras somewhere it will reduce crime on that specific area and will likely make terrorists plant their explosives elsewhere. Maybe that’s what they want?

MS August 28, 2005 6:04 PM

Here, learn the lesson that Londoners had to learn the hard way. You want to know what’s really driving the push for cameras comes from? It’s about detective capability alright, just not quite the kind you have in mind…

and this,,2-1679710,00.html
(The charge is for motorists entering central London)

and this,,2-1538702,00.html

Ian Eiloart August 30, 2005 4:07 AM

Cameras on the London Underground have provided evidence that directly contradicts eye-witness evidence, with respect to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

The one camera that might have observed his shooting wasn’t recording pictures (though the camera was working).

However, pictures were recorded showing that he used a ticket to enter the station (he did NOT jump the ticket barriers). He was also shown picking up a free newspaper, and proceeding calmly to the lower level – where he then ran to get on an arriving train.

All of this is evidence that the security forces cocked up big time, and that eye-witnesses are very unreliable. The camera evidence has, at least, vindicated Jean Charles at a time when the general public (myself included) seems to have been trying to excuse the security forces by suggesting they had some reason to target him.

abc August 31, 2005 5:36 AM

@Ian Eiloart: “All of this is evidence that […] eye-witnesses are very unreliable.”

I disagree: The facts that have emerged so far do not seem to contradict many of the widely quoted eyewitness reports, rather they contradict the incorrect interpretations that were initially placed upon them (with, it would appear, the tacit complicity of the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office) and then repeated ad nauseam by the press.

In particular, the eyewitness reports of a man vaulting the ticket barriers and of a man in a ‘bulky’ padded jacket with protruding wires are most likely quite correct, however they would appear to refer not to the victim but to a plain-clothes, armed police officer: bulky jacket to conceal his gun and holster, protruding wires for his radio and earpiece, and vaulting the barrier in his rush to catch and kill the ‘suicide bomber’.

Eddie B September 16, 2005 11:19 AM

I am absolutely confident that the cameras will help all NYC residents that use the subway. Crime deterrent alone is a reason to spend. In addition, if the cameras feed to a central monitoring location the possibility of intervention does exist. Clearing a station based an observation that would allow specialists to be deployed to the site.
I am also confident that chem sensor technology and explosive detection equipment could foil many plots. RAE Systems has Chem Sensing technology that could save thousands of lives in a given station.
You need to look beneath the surface of the contract to see the technology and then can better understand the expenditure and the life saving potential.

Eddie B

Paul O September 20, 2005 10:15 AM

Since this thread is now in the archives, I’m not sure that this will be noticed, but today brings news that the July 7 bombers in London did a “dry run” of their suicide mission just nine days prior to their attack.

Of course, without the CCTV footage, it would have been impossible to determine that, and we would have been left to only speculate as to how our enemies were being trained to operate.,,30100-1196286,00.html

Tomsk October 6, 2005 9:05 PM

The point of the cameras (although I agree 212 million is a lot of money, but it is a huge subway system) is to find the perpetrators afterwards. Which they did, and which would lead to a thread of who did it, thereby enabling better nuclear missile targeting of their cities. You know, before they lay to waste our cities.
Hey, let’s just give up now!

security January 22, 2007 8:47 PM

Now it has been announced by Mayor Bloomberg that People will be allowed to send Cellphone Pics and Videos to 911 – when they are reporting crimes or quality of life violations

What would you do? February 6, 2007 6:28 PM

Bruce, I understand that you don’t believe that cameras and sensors are an effective way to protect the New York Subway system. What then would you do to protect such a system; or has society come to a point that security in this high traffic area is impossible.

What would you do? February 6, 2007 8:58 PM

Bruce, I understand that you don’t believe that cameras will help the security of New York City Subway, what then would you propose to increase security……or in this age of increased technology is this impossible?

Bruce Schneier February 6, 2007 9:00 PM

“Bruce, I understand that you don’t believe that cameras will help the security of New York City Subway, what then would you propose to increase security……or in this age of increased technology is this impossible?”

The trick is to realize that this is the wrong problem to solve. We’re not trying to improve security in the subways; we’re trying to improve security overall. If we take all the crime, terrorism, or whatever in the New York City subways and move them to the surrounding streets, we’ve largely wasted our money. Once you understand what the problem really is, it’s easier to come up with effective security solutions.

Heather December 6, 2012 3:48 AM

Will the cameras help to detect suicide bombers? No. Will it help prevent disasters such as the London Bombings? No.

How in any way will the government be able to detect a bomber? We may not be bombers ourselves but we atleast know the basics, and I’m sure they do not walk around with a bomb strapped in full view. How will cameras be able to see under the coats, the tops, the jumpers? Will they just go and arrest anyone that looks slightly dodgy? That my friends would be discrimination. The cameras will not do anything.

Spend the money on something useful.

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