When New York started replacing its pay phones with wifi kiosks in January, the new free internet access was met with a great deal of excitement, particularly over the network's speed. The beta launch included just a dozen wifi hubs, but the city plans to convert 7,500 phone booths over the next few years so that free wifi is as ubiquitous as the yellow taxi in New York. But now, concerns about privacy are beginning to emerge.
As to the Domain Awareness system, a spokeswoman for Mayor de Blasio told me via email that the "NYPD would have to subpoena to obtain any information from the Links [the wifi kiosks]." The same, she said, would be true for user information.
If a government request for a user's information is received, a spokesperson for LinkedNYC said that "reasonable attempts" would be made to contact user via the email they provided to use the service.
As of late 2013, 57 cities had municipal wireless systems of some sort, a number that has and will continue to grow. At the same time, especially when it comes to New York City, this is a relatively untested frontier. The NYCLU sees its job as ensuring strong privacy protections are built in, so that city wifi doesn't become another kind of surveillance system, one whose cameras are trained on people's internet activity.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org