The NYPD Had a Secret Fund for Surveillance Tools

New York City police purchased a vary of surveillance instruments—together with facial-recognition software program, predictive policing software program, vans outfitted with x-ray machines to detect weapons, and “stingray” cell website simulators—with no public oversight, based on paperwork launched Tuesday.

In all, the paperwork present that the NYPD spent not less than $159 million since 2007 via a little-known “Special Expenses Fund” that didn’t require approval by town council or different municipal officers. The paperwork had been made public by two civil rights teams, the Legal Aid Society and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), which say the follow amounted to a “surveillance slush fund.”

Albert Fox Cahn, STOP’s govt director, says police are nonetheless blocking different information “needed by the public to understand the way our city is being policed.”

The contracts are closely redacted, making it obscure how any single software capabilities, not to mention how they’ll work collectively to create a surveillance dragnet over individuals in New York. The secrecy additionally inhibits a extra full understanding of the connection between the NYPD, its distributors, and the general public.

In 2018 the NYPD awarded $6.eight million to Idemia Solutions, which furnishes biometric instruments together with facial recognition. The specifics are redacted, however the firm came under fire in 2019 after it was revealed that the NYPD enters kids underneath 18 into facial-recognition databases maintained by the corporate. The 2018 contract resulted in 2020, but it surely gave the NYPD the choice to resume for two years.

In 2014 the NYPD signed a five-year, $800,000 contract with Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest defense contractor, to improve and preserve units all through town. The particular units are redacted within the contract, however Elbit Systems offers a wide range of surveillance instruments utilized by US Customs and Border Patrol on the southern border, together with the cameras and sensors that make up the “virtual border wall.”

In 2016 the NYPD entered into a three-year, $750,000 contract with American Science and Engineering, which furnishes mobile x-ray vans. Originally developed to detect improvised explosive units in conflict zones, the vans can scan vehicles for weapons from as much as 1,500 ft away. Health officers have warned that the units could also be a cancer risk as a result of they’ll expose passersby to unhealthy quantities of radiation. The NYPD has used the vans since at least 2012, but it surely has successfully fought makes an attempt to reveal the place or how usually they’re used, citing nationwide safety.

The paperwork additionally embrace contracts with KeyW Corporation, which furnished the NYPD with cell-site simulators, generally known as “stingrays.” These units mimic cellphone towers, logging the figuring out data of any cellphone that connects to them, permitting police to trace individuals by their cellphone.

“Armed with stingrays, law enforcement can—without any assistance or consent from cell phone carriers—pinpoint a person’s location in the home, a place of worship, or a doctor’s office, or conduct mass surveillance on people gathered in an area, whether for a protest, lecture, or a party,” says Daniel Schwarz, privacy and technology strategist at the New York Civil Liberties Union.

In 2017 the NYCLU sued the NYPD for extra data on its use of stingray units after protestors alleged that police interfered with their telephones throughout a protest in honor of Eric Garner, who was killed by an NYPD officer in 2014. With hundreds of individuals in such a small space, the units would type a dragnet of bystanders who aren’t suspected of any crime, merely participating in a First Amendment–protected exercise. Schwarz says town, at a minimal, ought to receive warrants earlier than utilizing the stingrays.

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