Writer/artist Ingrid Burrington has published a book called Networks of New York: An Illustrated Field Guide to Urban Internet Infrastructure, which sketches the physical extrusions of the internet into New York City's streets and buildings, and makes especial note of how much of that infrastructure has been built as part of the post 9/11 surveillance network that NYC has erected over the past 15 years.
The Intercept's Cora Currier went on a surveillance walking tour with Burrington, learning to decode the orange-sprayed surveyors' marks on the pavement and to spot the telltales on poles and building-faces that meant that something invisible and important was going on. I did a similar walking tour once, with journalist Henrik Moltke, when we were working on publishing some of the Snowden docs, and I can confirm that it's an experience to both open your eyes and blow your minds.
At each intersection, we looked for NYPD cameras and information-gathering devices owned by the Department of Transportation. Burrington pointed out green boxes sporting little domes; those are signal-control boxes that collect data from traffic cameras, EZ-Pass scanners, and microwave radar sensors, in order to track the movements of cars and regulate traffic lights accordingly. There are plenty of urban planning reasons for this data collection, but Burrington notes, "every camera that belongs to a city agency is essentially also an NYPD camera."
A lot of internet infrastructure resides in buildings that once housed earlier modes of communication, and those building still bear the aesthetic of another era. Early 20th-century communications companies liked ornate decor, especially lightning bolts, in contrast to the bland or cutesy logos that today's internet giants hide behind. We went to 75 Broad Street, once home to the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation. Over its doorway is a colorful mosaic of an angel with a lightning bolt and two globes showing the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Among other things, the building now houses a data storage center.
A WALKING TOUR OF NEW YORK'S MASSIVE SURVEILLANCE NETWORK
[Cora Currier/The Intercept]
(Photo: Jonathan Minard)