The New York Police Department has been using for many years now a “surveillance slush fund” in order to procure a wide range of policing and spying technology tools without any public supervision, newly released documents show.
What is more, the arrangement has been governed by a shadowy deal with officials of the city administration which allowed the usage of the spying equipment in “confidential operations” to be kept secret.
‘Invasive surveillance tools’
The documents exposing the dreadful secretive surveillance capabilities of the NYPD have been released by two civil rights groups, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) and the Legal Aid Society (LAS).
The paperwork in question includes contracts, special memos, bids, vendor agreements, and maintenance requests – and all of them have been released heavily redacted to hide as much of the scope of the appalling operations as possible.
The two NPOs point out that the arrangement violates the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, which was adopted by the NY city council in 2020.
The POST act nullified a “memorandum of understanding” from 2007 which allowed the arrangement.
The 2020 legislation also set a requirement that the NYPD reveal its surveillance-related expenses, and its usage of the high-tech spying tools at its disposal.
The documents now made public demonstrate that using a fund for “Special Expenses” since 2007, the New York police has paid no less than $159 million in public funds to procure “invasive surveillance tools” such as “stingray” cellphone trackers, software for facial recognition, vehicles equipped with X-ray machines for spotting weapons, and predictive policing programs.
The 2007 “memorandum of understanding” (MoU) between the NYPD, the comptroller’s office, and the Office of Management and Budget allowed the secretive fund to bypass approval by the New York City Council
Responding to the revelations, the New York Police Department argued that the documents in question had been released before POST even came into effect.
It insisted that it is a frontrunner among police departments and federal agencies in the country when it comes to providing transparency with respect to high-tech tools that it uses “in the field.”
Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of STOP, one of the two civil rights groups, however, hit back at the NYPD by stating that its giant surveillance spending was designed to “protect its bottom line,” not the residents of New York City.
Too redacted but not entirely
While the documents are too redacted to reveal in any detail how any of the special hi-tech surveillance tools operates and how they were employed throughout the city, they do provide an insight into some of the companies that are providers of the technology with contracts worth millions of dollars.
Thus, in 2018, the NYPD signed a deal with $6.8 million with a firm called IDEMIA Solutions for biometric tools such as facial recognition.
In 2019, the company was under fire after revelations that it maintained a database with details of minors shared by the police force.
In another case, the NYPD back in 2014, signed a five-year contract for over $850,000 with Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest defense contractor, in order to “upgrade” some “devices and operating systems” throughout NYC.
The Israeli firm typically supplies surveillance tools that are used by US border agencies, such as cameras and sensors.
The fact that even a city police department-level institution such as the NYPD has moved and managed to acquire such tremendous surveillance hi-tech capabilities casts very serious doubts over law-abiding Americans’ basic human and civil rights, and harbors a dreadfully big potential to crack down on them.