New York City is rolling out a new public Wi-Fi service over the course of 2016 that promises to bring a fast, free internet connection to the millions of residents and tourists throughout the Big Apple. But it might come with "strings attached," according to a local civil rights group.
The New York Civil Liberties Union warned in a statement Wednesday that LinkNYC, the name of the open internet initiative, doesn't provide adequate data protection. Users, including non-New Yorkers who connect to LinkNYC while they're in town for a visit, could risk having their data retained indefinitely. That's a great way to be victimized in a data breach, or become the unwitting subject of police surveillance.
“New Yorkers' private online activities shouldn't be used to create a massive database that's within the ready grasp of the New York City Police Department,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, said in the statement Wednesday. “Free public Wi-Fi can be an invaluable resource for this city, but New Yorkers need to know there are too many strings attached.”
Dozens of other U.S. cities -- including Houston, Tx., Santa Clara, Calif., Greensboro, N.C. and a number of smaller towns and municipalities -- are also offering free Internet access.
To use LinkNYC, users must register with their email address and agree to allow providers to collect information about which websites they visit, for how long, what links they click on and other information. CityBridge, the company converting phone booths into LinkNYC portals throughout New York, says it will make “reasonable efforts” to scrub users' personal information from their database after a user has been inactive for 12 months.
“CityBridge would require a subpeona or similar lawful request before sharing any data with the NYPD or law enforcement, and we will make every effort to communicate government requests to impacted users,” Jen Hensley, general manager of LinkNYC, told the Huffington Post, adding the company does not have plans to sell user information to third parties.