NYPD Screws Up Again; Hands Out Even More 'Secret' Facial Recognition Docs To Researchers

from the 'the-more-we-suck,-the-more-you-know'-rainbow.gif dept

The inadvertently great thing about the New York Police Department is its random inability to keep its secrets. Journalists have referred to the agency as being more opaque than redaction masters like the CIA and FBI. Its perpetual efforts to thwart public records requesters have led to insanity like refusing to release the department’s public records response guidelines or years of stonewalling over innocuous information.

So, when the “fuck you, citizens” facade inadvertently crumbles, we are: All. Over. It. Back in April, Georgetown researchers received documents the NYPD surely did not mean to release. Included in the NYPD’s release was a presentation on facial recognition software that it swore up and down (often in front of a judge!) was too sensitive to release to the public. This despite the fact the presentation was from a conference where any member of the public with $1,700 could view this super-sensitive slide deck.

The NYPD managed to talk a court into the ordering the impossible: the post facto memory-holing of documents researchers had already seen. The court said the researchers could not talk about the presentation’s content and ordered them to “return” the PDF they had received, however the hell that works.

Well, fool themselves once, shame on the NYPD. Fool themselves two or more times, the court says, “You’re on your own.” The New York Daily News reports the NYPD has screwed the facial recognition pooch yet again. Unbelievably, it has made the same mistake twice while dealing with the same public records requesters.

For the second time in three months, city lawyers have mistakenly turned over documents about the NYPD’s facial recognition program to academic researchers and are asking a judge to order the information returned.

The NYPD paperwork recently handed over to the Georgetown Center on Privacy and Technology included names and case numbers of people who were run through the facial recognition system, city attorney Jeffrey Dantowitz said in a hearing Tuesday. The documents were marked for redaction but accidentally sent to the researchers.

The NYPD engaged in redaction failure. Not the kind where someone uses a PDF tool they clearly don’t understand, but rather the kind of failure where redactions are never made. The NYPD’s lawyer called the black bar omission “embarrassing.” The court used different words to describe this failure.

“One was too much. Two is more than I can tolerate at this time,” [Justice Shlomo Hagler] said.

If the NYPD was hoping another irrational decision would be handed down, its hopes were dashed by an exasperated judge. Georgetown gets to keep the end result of the NYPD’s inadvertent transparency. Even better, it gets to publish the things the NYPD somehow forgot to redact. And there will be none of this “return the PDF” bullshit.

Still, the NYPD’s public-facing rep is apparently hoping if he says enough stuff to local press outfits, the judge will see fit to build a time machine for the malfunctioning NYPD. In an extended (given the circumstances) statement to the Daily News, NY Law Department spokesperson said such redaction failures occasionally occur. They apparently occur more frequently “in litigation” (as they have done twice!) and that there “exists a legal process” for getting the unredacted documents back from the inadvertent disclosees.

Good talk, but it seems the court has already shut that argument down. If the NYPD can’t competently redact documents, it has no business asking the court to fix its fuck ups. That much seems clear from the judge’s short, pointed statement.

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