Local law enforcement agencies are rapidly acquiring and using surveillance technologies that are more invasive than ever. In addition to familiar equipment like video cameras, government agencies are using devices that can read license plates, see through walls, trick cell phones into revealing their location, and recognize faces in a crowd of people. Technologies previously used only by intelligence agencies in other countries and in counterterrorism efforts are finding their way into our hometowns. This is taking place not only in big cities with big budgets, but also in small rural and suburban communities across the United States.
The federal government has established numerous grant and surplus equipment programs that make it easier for agencies to access advanced surveillance technology, but it has offered little to no guidance in how to use these devices in a way that protects civil liberties. Indeed, local residents often have no clue that these technologies are being deployed, and some law enforcement agencies actively seek to keep them hidden from the public eye. Furthermore, local governments often do not consider potential harms to civil liberties when they accept grants and equipment from the federal programs.
We are here to help. This website provides information about some of the most widely used surveillance technologies, along with the civil liberties concerns that they raise, and offers recommendations for crafting policies and protocols to manage these systems.
They are watching. You should be, too.