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Big Data Environmental Impact Study? Case of Commuter Rail Onboard Cameras

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MTA Onboard Camera Proposal: Editorial by Mike Barry

Whether you agree or disagree with the idea of cameras on commuter rail, it’s a fair question to speculate whether the agency overseeing the potential plan has done a thorough job of considering its implications. While this editorial by Mike Barry questions the plan’s efficacy and expense, broader questions of security, privacy and systems management should also be addressed.

The Long Island Rail Road is part of the largest commuter rail system in North America. Its public oversight is performed by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, whose officials are familiar with environmental impact studies mandated for station rennovation projects and construction efforts like the current $8B East Side Access project.

The impact of rolling out onboard cameras, depending of course on the scope and numerous other details, could be significant. Because of Big Data Variety, the cameras could be used to track individuals and employees. Using additional data from ticket machines and station surveillance cameras, the precise itineraries of some passengers could be inferred. How would individual privacy be protected? How would the huge archive of video footage be preserved, archived, protected? Who would be given access to the video streams? What training would be given to users of the data? What legacy systems would be impacted? What are the implications for passenger, employee, infrastructure forensics?

There are numerous questions like these to be considered — so many that a study analogous to an Environmental Impact Study might be needed. For lack of a less clumsy term, call it a Big Data Impact Study.

As the Internet of Things (#IoT) takes hold across previously anonymous aspects of living, such impact studies could prove to be one the important ways to protect privacy and to implement sometimes disregarded aspects of security and risk management.