Last month, New Yorkers were given the first taste of what officials called “ultra-fast” free public Wi-Fi, but one nonprofit organization is raising questions on the privacy of such a network.
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) announced Wednesday several privacy concerns with the city’s new public Wi-Fi network, LinkNYC, which over the next few years is expected to have a network of over 7,500 kiosks across the five boroughs — replacing almost every payphone.
The kiosks will provide users with one gigabit per second speed of bandwidth quality through a new fiber optic network making speeds faster than average public Wi-Fi.
And although it is set to connect New Yorkers throughout the city, NYCLU claimed that CityBridge — the company that runs the LinkNYC kiosks — retains a large amount of information from users creating what the nonprofit called a “massive database” which runs the risk of security breaches and unnecessary NYPD surveillance.
“New Yorkers’ private online activities shouldn’t be used to create a massive database that’s within the ready grasp of the NYPD,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “Free public Wi-Fi can be an invaluable resource for this city, but New Yorkers need to know there are too many strings attached.”
NYCLU voiced its concerns in a letter that was sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this week.
According to the organization, users who register for LinkNYC must agree to allow CityBridge to collect data on what websites they frequent, where and how long they stay on information on a site and links they specifically click on.
In their letter to the mayor, NYCLU calls for clarification of CityBridge’s policy and want to know if the environmental sensors and cameras on the kiosks will be feeding into any city or NYPD systems.
“Internet access is not a choice, it’s a modern-life necessity,” said Mariko Hirose, senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “The city’s public Wi-Fi network should set the bar for privacy and security to help ensure that New Yorkers do not have to sacrifice their rights and freedoms to sign online.”
At the end of their letter, NYCLU applauded the city’s goal of making the Internet more accessible to all, but said the objective should not have residents pay for access with the right to privacy.
However, according to LinkNYC, the cameras at the kiosks are currently inactive and are not designed to feed into any NYPD systems.
She added that LinkNYC does not collect or store any data on a person’s personal web browsing on devices.
In order for the NYPD or any other law enforcement agency to obtain information from any of the kiosks CityBridge requires a subpoena or similar lawful requests.