Civil libertarians are pushing the city to make its new public wifi kiosk network less data-mine-y, saying that the way the LinkNYC public wifi system is set up now allows for the creation of a database of all users' web activity that the NYPD could easily tap into if it felt like it.
"New Yorkers' private online activities shouldn’t be used to create a massive database that’s within the ready grasp of the NYPD," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. "Free public wifi can be an invaluable resource for this city, but New Yorkers need to know there are too many strings attached."
However, in a letter publicized today, the NYCLU takes issue with language in the policy that says the company will make only "reasonable attempts" to let users know when law enforcement agencies request their information. Likewise, the policy says the company will store user info for 12 months after one's last login, meaning it could be retained indefinitely so long as one uses the kiosks periodically.
In an email back-and-forth with the NYCLU, the Mayor's Office called the user privacy protections "unprecedented in the field of free public wifi services," emphasizing that the kiosks offer an encryption option to protect against hackers lurking around the hot-spots, and saying that any data shared with advertisers and the city will be anonymized. The kiosks also include environmental sensors to alert operators to tampering, and the NYCLU demanded to know whether these would be plugged into the NYPD's Domain Awareness System or other surveillance networks. After publication of the NYCLU's open letter today, Mayor's Office spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas said the sensors and cameras will not connect to any city systems.
"They represented this in a way that is a lot scarier than it should be," Grybauskas said.
Asked about a segment of the policy that refers to CityBridge making only "reasonable attempts" to inform users of law enforcement requests for information, the spokeswoman said that this simply means that the company will reach out using the email provided at login.
The NYCLU is demanding a clear data retention policy that would strip all identifying material beyond what is "operationally necessary" and delete it after a set period.
In a statement, Grybauskas wrote, "We will continue to work to ensure legitimate concerns are addressed."