New York City’s war on freedom could be adding a new weapon to its arsenal, especially if NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has his say.
The head of the New York Police Department is working with the Pentagon to secure body scanners to be used throughout the Big Apple.
If Kelly gets his wish, the city will be receiving a whole slew of Terahertz Imagining Detection scanners, a high-tech radiation detector that measures the energy that is emitted from a persons’ body. As CBS News reports, “It measures the energy radiating from a body up to 16 feet away, and can detect anything blocking it, like a gun.”
What it can also do, however, is allow the NYPD to conduct illegal searches by means of scanning anyone walking the streets of New York. Any object on your person could be privy to the eyes of the detector, and any suspicious screens can prompt police officers to search someone on suspicion of having a gun, or anything else under their clothes.
According to Commissioner Kelly, the scanners would only be used in “reasonably suspicious circumstances,” but what constitutes “suspicious” in the eyes of the NYPD could greatly differ from what the 8 million residents of the five boroughs have in mind.
The American Civil Liberties Union has already questioned the NYPD over what they say is an unnecessary precaution that raises more issues than it solves.
“It’s worrisome. It implicates privacy, the right to walk down the street without being subjected to a virtual pat-down by the Police Department when you’re doing nothing wrong,” Donna Lieberman of the NYCLU says to CBS.
The scanners also raise the question of whether such searches would even be legal under the US Constitution. Under the Fourth Amendment, Americans are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. Does scoping out what’s on someone’s person fall under the same category as a hands-on frisk, though?
To the NYPD, it might not matter. In the first quarter of 2011, more than 161,000 innocent New Yorkers were stopped and interrogated on the streets of the city. Figures released by the NYPD in May of last year revealed that of the over 180,000 stop-and-frisk encounters reported by the police department, 88 percent of them ended in neither an arrest nor a summons, leading many to assume that New York cops are already going above and beyond the law by searching seemingly anyone they chose. Additionally, of those 161,000-plus victims, around 84 percent were either black or Latino. At the time, the ACLU’s Lieberman wrote, “The NYPD is turning black and brown neighborhoods across New York City into Constitution-free zones.”
Given the alarming statistics, many already feel that officers within the ranks of the NYPD are overzealous with their monitoring of New Yorkers, regularly stopping them for unknown suspicions that nearly nine-out-of-ten times prove false. With the installation of the Terahertz Imagining Detection scanners though, those invasive physical searches wouldn’t just be replaced with a touchless, more intrusive monitoring, but will only allow New Yorkers one more reason to fear walking the streets.
“If they search you, you’re not giving consent, so they can do what they want, meaning they can use that as an excuse to search you for other means. I don’t think that’s constitutional at all,” New Yorker Devan Thomas tells CBS.
“There are a lot of cameras already here, so as people walk they’re being filmed. And most of the time they don’t know it,” adds Jennifer Bailly.
A lot is somewhat of an understatement. In Manhattan alone there are over 2,000 surveillance cameras, public and private, aimed at every passerby. That number is the same as the tally of both McDonalds and Starbucks on the island, combined, multiplied by a factor of eight.
CBS News adds that the plan puts the NYPD in direct cooperation with the Department of Defense, who is working on testing the scanners to find a way to bring them to the streets. Such a joint effort opens up questions about other endeavors the Pentagon could have planned out with the NYPD in the past, and certainly doesn’t mark the first time that New York’s boys in blue have worked hand-in-hand with federal agencies. Last year a report surfaced linking the NYPD to the CIA, as documents became available showing a connection between the local police department and government spies installing secret agents into Muslim majority communities in New York.
By using scanners such as the Terahertz Imagining detectors, however, New Yorkers will be forced to endure more than just an unknown number of eyes prying under their clothes. The consequences could be biologically catastrophic, with the scanning technique tied to problems with the human body’s ability to operate. According to MIT’s Technology Review, the THz waves used by the scanners “unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication.”