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AI Surveillance System to Tackle Fare Evasion in NYC Subways: A Shift in Strategy or an Invasion of Privacy?

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City has been experiencing considerable revenue losses due to the rampant issue of fare evasion in recent years. The issue has prompted the MTA to take a novel and somewhat controversial approach to tackling the problem: the use of artificial intelligence (AI) based surveillance software.

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Implementation of the AI System

The newly implemented system, which had not been previously disclosed by transit authorities, employs third-party software designed to recognize potential fare evaders. Implemented initially at seven subway stations, the MTA announced in May plans for a considerable expansion to more than two dozen additional stations throughout the city by the end of the year. The MTA’s new approach to curbing fare evasion follows a reported loss of $690 million in revenue in 2022, attributable to both fare and toll evasion.

Functionality and Aims

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MTA Communication Director Tim Minton stressed that the AI system’s primary function is to identify and track patterns of fare evasion, in turn helping the MTA keep an account of revenue lost through such activities. “We’re using it essentially as a counting tool,” Minton explained, “The objective is to determine how many people are evading the fare and how are they doing it.” However, MTA spokesperson Joana Flores did confirm that, as of now, the AI system does not report identified offenders to law enforcement.

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Privacy Concerns

Despite the seemingly non-punitive nature of the system, civil rights and privacy advocates have expressed skepticism and concern over its potential misuse. Albert Fox Cahn, the Director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, pointed out that the software’s implementation contributes to an increasingly intrusive surveillance culture within the city. 

“We’re already seeing the proliferation of automated license plate readers. We’ve seen data collection on Uber and Lyft histories. We see tens of thousands of cameras accessible to the NYPD when people are walking about in public,” Cahn stated. This intensifying surveillance environment threatens the ability of citizens to navigate the city with a sense of privacy and anonymity. 

Cahn and other critics also question the focus on fare evasion as an issue that needs such high-tech and invasive solutions. “We keep seeing this consistent criminalization of fare evasion even though it hurts no one,” Cahn said, “And this really just feels like politics driving bad technology and bad policy.”

The Future

As technology advances, it continues to offer novel solutions to old problems. The use of AI surveillance systems to combat fare evasion is one such instance. While it might provide a potential solution to the MTA’s revenue losses, it also raises valid concerns about privacy and the increasing surveillance of public spaces.

The balance between using technology for public good and protecting individual privacy rights is a delicate one. As the MTA continues to deploy its AI system, it’s crucial to keep an eye on how the technology evolves and is used, and to ensure that it does not infringe upon individual rights.

Stay informed about the implications and developments of technology in our daily lives, particularly how it impacts our rights and freedoms. With the rapid advancement of technology, maintaining an awareness of these changes is essential to ensure the preservation of our civil liberties.

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Malik is a skilled writer with a passion for news and current events. With their keen eye for detail, they provide insightful perspectives on the latest happenings. Stay informed and engaged!