NY Legislators Introduce Bill That Would Seriously Curb Law Enforcement's Surveillance Collections
from the take-what-you-want-but-only-keep-what-you-need dept
A bipartisan group of New York assembly members has introduced a bill that doesn’t appear to have much of a chance at becoming an actual law. But what a bill it is. If it does receive the governor’s signature, it would drastically revamp how the NYPD (and other agencies) handle the massive amount of video and data they collect daily.
A bill introduced in the New York Assembly would prohibit the state from creating any database containing aggregate surveillance data including ALPR, audio, video and facial recognition records. Passage would not only protect privacy in New York; it would also put major roadblocks in front of federal surveillance programs.
Assm.Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh/Mt. Pleasant), along with a bipartisan coalition of six assembly members, introduced Assembly Bill 11332 (A11332) on Sept. 19. The proposed law would bar state agencies and departments, and contractors engaged in business with the state, from using any database as a repository of, a storage system for, or a means of sharing facial recognition functionality. I would also prohibit the creation of any permanent repository or storage system for aggregate license plate reader data records, aggregate audio surveillance recordings, aggregate video surveillance images, or aggregate driver license photographs.
In effect, A11332 would prohibit the creation of any comprehensive database storing surveillance data.
It’s an anti-haystack bill. And law enforcement loves its haystacks. The NYPD — believing itself to be a globetrotting intelligence agency — loves them more than most. Law enforcement agencies have obtained massive boosts in collection power over the years, thanks to omnipresent surveillance cameras, automatic license plate readers, and cheap digital storage. Biometric data has recently been added to the mix, promising to turn dumb cameras into suspect-spotting field agents.
The tech has advanced ahead of best practices or privacy impact assessments. The new hardware is presumed legal until proven otherwise and is often obtained and deployed with minimal oversight and zero public input.
This bill doesn’t outlaw the continued hoovering of data points/camera footage but it does ensure the massive amount collected will have to be quickly sorted into hay and needles by restricting stored collections to stuff pertinent to ongoing investigations.
The immediate local impact would be immense. But expect the feds to start inserting themselves into local legislating. This bill would make it impossible for federal agencies to accomplish their dream of connected, nationwide databases of license plate photos and biometric data.
Because the federal government relies heavily on partnerships and information sharing with state and local law enforcement agencies, passage of A11332 would hinder the creation of federal surveillance databases. Information that is never retained by the state cannot be shared with the feds.
If the bill passes unamended, law enforcement may be able to retain more than it should by making broad claims about everything in its collections being somehow relevant to investigations. If these legislators are serious about making this law do what it says it does, they will need to tack on some reporting requirements that will force agencies to go on the record about their data retention practices.
While it’s true law enforcement agencies can’t possibly know what data/footage will prove useful in future investigations, that shouldn’t be used as an argument for retaining everything collected. Legitimate privacy concerns should not be subordinated to New York law enforcement’s fear of missing out.