After being pushed to do so by new legislation, the New York City Police Department has publicized a full inventory of the myriad spying instruments it uses to surveil the public.
For years, it’s been well-known that the NYPD has a healthy war chest when it comes to surveillance gear. Indeed, the city that endured the terrorist attacks of 9/11 has seemingly adopted a permissive attitude to invasive government oversight, and it also has one of the most well-funded police agencies in the country (we’re talking billions and billions of dollars). Yet a full and transparent accounting of the force’s spying power has largely been absent until now.
The laws around disclosing this information changed last summer with the passage of the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act, or simply the POST Act—which necessitates a full public inventory of the city’s spying tools. This inventory includes an outline of the policies and procedures around the gear’s use, as well as its data protection and retention processes. The law also necessitates a public comment period that allows the city’s residents a chance to respond to the draft policies around their use. The law resembles one instituted in Seattle several years ago, which had similar participatory and oversight mechanisms built into it.
In accordance with the POST Act, the NYPD updated its website on Monday with a list of its spy gear—as well as with a set of draft policies for the surveillance tools it deploys.
“The NYPD is committed to increasing transparency related to the use of surveillance technology within the bounds of responsive, efficient, and effective policing,” the new page states. “The impact and use policies developed by the Department work to find a fair balance between the benefits provided through the use of technology and protecting individual privacy.”
The “public feedback” aspect of the new policy is explained as such:
“The impact and use policies will be available for public comment for forty-five (45) calendar days. At the end of the 45-day period, the feedback will be collected and recommendations for revising the draft policies will be considered prior to finalization. The final impact and use policies will be published publically [sic] by April 11, 2021.”
The POST Act was passed in June of last year, which—if you will remember—was not a great time for the nation’s major cities. Indeed, with the brutal police killing of George Floyd a mere several weeks previous, many cities—including NYC—were a hotbed of discontent, protests, and violence. New York City Council members, desperate to legislate their way out of what increasingly looked like the collapse of social order in America’s biggest metropolis, agreed to some modest reforms to the city’s police department.
So what’s in the NYPD’s spying arsenal? You can look for yourself, but all the usual suspects are there: CCTV systems, drones, facial recognition, license plate readers, ShotSpotter, cell-site simulators and geo-fencing tools, along with much, much more. Now you have the opportunity to read about the police department’s tools and procedures and then tell the NYPD just exactly what you think of them.