New York’s Smart IDs Are the Latest Mass Surveillance Nightmare

" More than a million New Yorkers could soon willingly agree to carry a government-issued tracking device, whether they realize it or not.

That’s the proposal from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who having recently returned from the cornfield-dotted campaign trail in Iowa, is setting his sights on transforming New York City into something out of a dystopian sci-fi novel. But some critics are urging caution about the move.

The fuss is about a tiny RFID chip that the mayor wants to embed into each and every municipal ID card for New York residents as part of the “IDNYC” program.

Sadly, for many smart city projects, privacy protections are not just an unwanted expense, but an existential threat. After all, even though these systems are sold with the promise of promoting government efficiency, the true product is often the public itself and all our data. Ventures like Firefly and LinkNYC use public location data to do what so many tech ventures have done: better target their ads. Smart cities create a captive, highly segmented audience ready to be told what they need to buy.

But the dangers don’t end with the exploitation of surveillance capitalism. As these systems are increasingly integrated into city services, we run the risk of automating age-old biases and further discriminating against marginalized communities. Some of the most visible examples to date have stemmed from the use of racially-biased facial recognition in law enforcement and racially or socioeconomically biased algorithms in child risk assessments. The risks likely go even further than what we can imagine now."

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