Superposition reveals the disturbing reach of facial recognition tech in NYC with this interactive data visualisation project

Inside the NYPD’s Surveillance Machine allows users to plot a walking route through New York City and discover how much of it might be exposed to surveillance.

23 February 2022


Superposition, the Netherlands-based design studio focusing on interactive experiences, has unveiled a new project with Amnesty International, visualising sobering research on invasive facial recognition technology (FRT) in New York, which shows how FRTs enable racist policing. Part of Amnesty’s Ban the Scan campaign, Inside the NYPD’s Surveillance Machine is an interactive data visualisation project that allows users to plot a walking route through New York City and see how much of this route might be exposed to surveillance.

In a release, Amnesty explains that FRT was used at Black Lives Matter protest sites in 2020 to “identify, track and harass people who are simply exercising their human rights”. Amnesty International’s Ban the Scan site explains: “The New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) surveillance machinery disproportionally threatens the rights of non-white New Yorkers.” It goes on to explain that while FRT for identification violates the right to privacy and enables racist policing, the NYPD used the technology in “22,000 cases between 2016 and 2019”.

To urge the New York City Council to ban the use of the technology, Superposition had to create an interactive digital experience that was widely accessible and conveyed the urgency of Amnesty’s findings. When you enter Inside the NYPD’s Surveillance Machine, the site allows you to query routes between two locations, like Google Maps, before revealing what per cent of your chosen path will be exposed to FRTs. The data is projected onto a map of New York City, allowing visitors to see which route points are under surveillance.


Superposition: Inside the NYPD's Surveillance Machine (Copyright © Amnesty International, 2022)

A mobile-first, reactive web app was chosen for the online experience to encourage as many users as possible – Superposition uses a GDPR-compliant service for geolocation to protect visitors’ privacy. Report cards encourage the user to “form an opinion on the topic”, says the release, or to take action by signing the petition or sending a letter of protest to their council member. It continues: “The experience thereby helps spread awareness of the issue and advance Amnesty International’s goal of achieving a ban.”

Amnesty International’s research, used for Superposition’s visualisation, was based on the work of over 7,000 digital volunteers analysing Google Street View panoramas of every traffic intersection in New York City. 25,500 public and private cameras were identified across 43,000 intersections. In the release, Amnesty adds that the crowdsourced data is likely an undercount.

GallerySuperposition: Inside the NYPD's Surveillance Machine (Copyright © Amnesty International, 2022)

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Superposition: Inside the NYPD's Surveillance Machine (Copyright © Amnesty International, 2022)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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