Police are expanding their ability to spy on citizens through the use of sophisticated and pervasive surveillance technology in cities across the country. The police are using mass surveillance technology such as drones, private security cameras and cell phones to identify individuals in crowds, listen for gunshots, and record criminal activity.
In New York, police are using drones to monitor and record protests, like the huge BLM demonstrations that took place of the summer of 2020. Axon Enterprise Inc. supplied drones to to New York Police Department and the recordings are being entered into the Evidence.com data system, a massive database for record keeping of footage taken by the devices.
There has been a dramatic increase in drone usage across the United States. At least 1,103 law enforcement agencies have purchased drones in the U.S and that number includes only the known disclosed usage. Many police departments have not disclosed their use of surveillance drones to the public.
The New York Police Department has a history of police abuse, and civil rights advocates have protested against the department’s invasion of demonstrators’ privacy before. Citizens are concerned about the violation of their rights to freely assemble and to be free from unwarranted searches while protesting. Several large tech companies, including Microsoft, have linked to providing support for police surveillance. In response to the rampant use of drone technology by police, 18 states have passed laws which requiring a warrant for drone surveillance.
Sometimes private surveillance cameras can work against the police. As Katya Schwenk reported in Truthout in June 2020, video footage of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer was captured on a nearby security camera and went viral. As she noted, “…the growing abundance of camera footage can also prove a double-edged sword for police.” Similarly, Sam Biddle reported in The Intercept that internet-connected doorbell cameras like Ring are alerting residents when police come to their homes to conduct searches.
While the use of drones by specific police departments—and, especially, their use against BLM protestors—has been covered in the corporate media, the systematic and sweeping use of drones and other surveillance technology by police across the country has not been covered adequately.
Nick Mottern, “Over 1,100 Policing Agencies in the US Have Bought Drones Capable of Recording,” Truthout, August 6, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/police-drones-dont-just-watch-protests-they-record-them-with-little-oversight/.
Katya Schwenk, “Operation Legend is Bringing Surveillance Tech to Cities,” The Intercept, September 13, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/09/13/police-surveillance-technology-operation-legend/.
Katya Schwenk, “Police Are Building Surveillance Networks of Private Security Cameras in Cities,” Truthout, June 11, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/police-are-building-surveillance-networks-of-private-security-cameras-in-cities/.
Sam Biddle, “Doorbell Cameras Like Ring Give Early Warning of Police Searches, FBI Warned,” The Intercept, August 31, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/08/31/blueleaks-amazon-ring-doorbell-cameras-police/.
Student Researchers: Kolby Cordova and Natalia Fuentes (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)