Monday, August 25, 2008

Preventing Terrorism in Manhattan

The NYPD is planning to install permanent license plate scanners at each of the 20 crossings into Manhattan.

While many respected members of our community have opposed the tracking of all vehicles entering and leaving Manhattan, I view the project as an important piece of creating a safer Manhattan that is more attractive for business activity as well as for raising our children.

Challenge of Privacy

We need to be vigilant in protecting the privacy of Manhattanites. We do not want our every movement tracked by the authorities. We do not want a public record of every telephone conversation we've had or a video recording of how we've reacted to everything that has occurred in our lives each day. Some of our privacy has already been lost due to EZ Pass. The government has access to information regarding where our vehicles have been, and the government can use our Metro Cards to track our movements as well.

For me, this latest proposed loss of liberty (not having the government know whether or not my vehicle is in Manhattan) is outweighed by the deterrent effect on criminals and terrorists. I respect the concerns about a slippery slope (if we allow the government to track every vehicle that enters Manhattan, how will we avoid the government's intrusion into every aspect of our lives with cameras and tracking devices?), but we can choose to look at this proposal on its merits and distinguish it from the recent Federal wiretapping and the potential for ubiquitous video taping of our movements as people. This proposal is focused on tracking which vehicles are here in our home county - the most important county in the world.

A vehicle was used as a deadly weapon in Oklahoma City in 1995, and we should be eager to invest in preventing such a tragedy here in Manhattan, which is now, more than ever, the center of the world for commerce, finance, arts, culture, international affairs, etc. We will always be a terrorist target, and we must engage in efforts to defeat the terrorists' schemes.

Protecting All of Manhattan

Early versions of the proposal for license plate readers focused on Lower Manhattan. The latest plan includes all of Manhattan. We should not encourage terrorists to view attacks in certain parts of the borough to be more acceptable than attacks in other parts. To the extent that we sacrifice some liberty to promote safety, it must be safety for all of our people and not only for those now living and working in close proximity to the location of the 2001 terrorist attacks. In Upper Manhattan, we expect that the NYPD and its law enforcement colleagues will show no less determination to prevent attacks and track the movements of those legitimately identified as threats when those potential attacks and identified threats are in the northern reaches of our borough.

Holding the NYPD Accountable

The NYPD has been unsuccessful in eliminating racial profiling, excessive use of force, and other forms of policy misconduct. It has supported rules protecting officers who engage in misconduct, and it has been able to avoid any real oversight from outside of its own ranks. As the NYPD gains the ability to track vehicles throughout Manhattan, we must unite to demand that the NYPD live up to its commitment to purge its records of the movements of those vehicles after 30 days in the absence of evidence of associated criminal or terrorist related activity. We will have an obligation to demand that the tracking data be used only to prevent violent crimes and terrorist activities - not to embarrass critics of the NYPD and not for general detective work and broad investigations.

I recommend that a special citizens oversight committee be established to review, on at least a quarterly basis, the work of the NYPD with regard to the tracking of the movement of vehicles into and around Manhattan. This committee would, at a minimum, prevent the widespread abuse of the acquired data by the NYPD from going unchallenged or unnoticed. The Borough President, Scott Stringer, would be the natural person to appoint the members of this committee and to ensure that the committee is a mixture of those with knowledge of law enforcement and those dedicated to preserving our civil liberties - all working together and with the NYPD to keep our borough safe and to protect our precious civil and Constitutional rights, simultaneously.

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