By Lisa Rein
These simple letter templates can compel the Police and Sheriff Departments of a given city to provide you with documentation regarding every type of surveillance equipment in existence for a given City (Police) and saCounty (Sheriff).
It’s a roundabout way of determining what surveillance equipment is being used on the public in a given city, but since it’s all we have, at least the #ASDPSP project will make it so much easier for journalists and the public to get their hands on this information.
In this third installment of our series, Tracy will help us understand more about what we found in Sacramento, and how do approach local politicians to put pressure on them to do something about it, by implementing a “surveillance policy framework.”
Here’s are the first two interviews of this series:
Tracy Rosenberg, co-founder of the Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project, explains #whatwefound in #Sacramento using our project’s letter templates and Muckrock, an online platform for filing public records requests.
The Police Surveillance Project at Aaron Swartz Day aims to empower journalists and citizen researchers with pre-written letters that use just the right language to compel a city’s police or sheriff departments to hand over the relevant documents.
There is much to be done once the evidence is in-hand, but getting that evidence can be half the battle. These letter templates make it easy to use Muckrock and quickly file a large set of public records requests to the Police and Sheriff Departments of a given city.
We recently added two new templates that include the use of facial recognition software, since it came out recently that Amazon has been literally giving away its facial recognition software to law enforcement. I explain how to use the letter templates here. There are 20 templates now; 10 for the Police Department and 10 for the Sheriff’s Department of any given city.
Once you get the information back on a given city, you can begin to determine exactly which types of surveillance equipment a city’s police and a county’s sheriff departments have already purchased. Then, gradually, you can bring attention to the existence of the equipment to the relevant City’s City Council, in order to start the process of implementing a “surveillance policy framework” in that town.
As we learned in an earlier interview with Tracy, Occupy activists learned these techniques in the process of finding out what the City of Oakland was using on its citizens during the #OccupyOakland protests several years ago. Once Oakland’s City Council were given evidence that the surveillance equipment existed, they could (eventually) do the right thing, and put a Surveillance Policy Framework in place regulating how it is allowed to be used.
Your town’s City Council could do the right thing too, but first you will probably have to provide them with proof, direct from the Police and Sheriff Departments themselves, that this kind of surveillance equipment even exists.
However, when you get the documents back, it’s important to make sure you really understand what you think you might have found. That’s what thus week’s interview is all about; understanding the documents you received back, so you can make a list and hand it over, with the supporting documentation, to your City Council members.
LR: Here’s a list of the equipment we recommend asking about with the letter templates for each in .doc & .pdf formats). It’s best to file a separate public records request for each kind of equipment.
The trick is knowing how to write the letters; and you have done that for us already. Thank you so much.
TR: My pleasure. As we discussed earlier, these letters cover most known basic equipment that your local city and county might be using, including: drones and flying over head cameras, license plate readers, policing predictive software, social media monitoring software, stingrays, and most recently, facial recognition software.
LR: Since I asked you to create a template to address what we just learned about Amazon’s Rekognition software, something the ACLU is very concerned about.
TR: Yes. Unfortunate but necessary.
LR: Why these pieces of equipment?
TR: We are asking about these pieces of equipment because we already know that there is a good chance that big police departments will probably have all of it. The smaller ones will at least have some of it. But you have to ask about all of it, because sometimes they are using it in secret, and you never know until you ask.
LR: We have already received word back from Sacramento. Let’s talk what we found in Sacramento, and you can tell us how we might go about getting that information to our Sacramento representatives.