Daily News: City Council, NYPD Clash over Surveillance Transparency Bill

Legal Aid's Jerome Greco was quoted in the Daily News on pending legislation that would increase reporting, transparency and oversight over surveillance technologies and methods currently employed by the NYPD.

New York Daily News
City Council, NYPD Clash over Surveillance Transparency Bill
By Erin Durkin
June 14, 2017

They'll agree to disagree.

NYPD brass split with members of the City Council Wednesday over whether the department should turn over a broad array of information about its surveillance technology.

Fifteen members of the Council have sponsored a bill that would require the NYPD to turn over the particulars about their use of devices like Stingrays, which track cell phone locations.

“They have been resistant to transparency measures that we have proposed,” said Councilman Daniel Garodnick (D-Manhattan), a co-sponsor of the bill. “They need to do better here.”

The bill has drawn the wrath of NYPD officials who say it will clue in terrorists and criminals about investigative tactics.

“In effect, it would create a one-stop-shopping guide for understanding these tools, and how to thwart them, for criminal elements and terrorists across the nation and the world,” said John Miller, the NYPD deputy commissioner for counterterrorism.

“The tragic events that have taken place today in Alexandria, Va., and in the United Kingdom over the last several weeks remind us that the threat of terrorism is indeed real and persistent.”

Miller said there’s a lot of “paranoia” that cops are surveilling everyday citizens.

Garodnick countered that civilians ultimately oversee the Police Department.

“We don’t want to give a blueprint for anything,” he said. “We don’t want to give any roadmaps to terrorists.”

Added Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson (D-Bronx), “New Yorkers just want to be assured that they’re not under constant surveillance throughout the city because of what they look like, their religion, where they worship.”

In addition to the Stingrays, which police used more than 1,000 times between 2008 and 2015, the NYPD has license plate readers, X-ray scanners that can look inside vehicles, radiation detectors and a sophisticated network of public and private security cameras.

Garodnick argued that the federal government already requires its law enforcement agencies to disclose information about its surveillance devices.

Civil liberties groups backed the bill.

“The NYPD appears to be using its increasingly powerful surveillance technologies with few rules, procedures, or guidelines,” said Jerome Greco of the Legal Aid Society. “Secrecy lends itself to misuse, and increases the potential for undetected constitutional violations.”

The bill would require the NYPD to issue a policy for each piece of surveillance technology, including the types of surveillance tools, what they can do, internal rules for their use and how the NYPD shares and protects the data.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said the definition of “surveillance technology” in the bill is so broad that it would apply to any equipment that can collect information — even the 911 emergency system.

The NYPD’s top lawyer, Lawrence Byrne, said whenever cops use a Stingray, a prosecutor and a judge have signed off on its use. Miller said the Police Department opposes the bill, but would be willing to discuss a more limited measure.

This article originally appeared on the New York Daily News.