Documents Show NYPD Has A Secret Surveillance Tech Slush Fund
from the pre-approved-dark-funding dept
About a half-decade ago, public records requesters discovered the Chicago Police Department had been spending seized funds on surveillance equipment like Stingray devices. The forfeiture fund was apparently completely discretionary and the PD used this steady supply of cash to make purchases not specifically approved by the city. It also allowed the department to elude direct oversight of surveillance activities and ensure the public was unable to interrupt the procurement process with pesky comments and questions.
It appears the New York Police Department has been doing the same thing for at least as long. But it’s not doing it with “discretionary” funds lifted from New York residents using civil forfeiture. Documents obtained by Wired show the infamously secretive agency has even more secrecy up its sleeves — a fund that is specifically exempt from its own oversight.
New York City police bought a range of surveillance tools—including facial-recognition software, predictive policing software, vans equipped with x-ray machines to detect weapons, and “stingray” cell site simulators—with no public oversight, according to documents released Tuesday.
In all, the documents show that the NYPD spent at least $159 million since 2007 through a little-known “Special Expenses Fund” that did not require approval by the city council or other municipal officials. The documents were made public by two civil rights groups, the Legal Aid Society and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), which say the practice amounted to a “surveillance slush fund.”
Millions of dollars went to Idemia Solutions, a facial recognition tech provider. Hundreds of thousands went to an Israeli defense contractor, which has provided some sort of “devices” to the PD (details on the devices are redacted). Three-quarters of a million went to a mobile x-ray van manufacturer. The list continues, encompassing a cell site simulator provider and other surveillance tech/software contractors whose documents have been redacted into near-uselessness.
Unfortunately, it appears the city gave its explicit blessing to being cut out of the approval process. A memorandum of understanding between the NYPD and the city’s Office of Management and Budget allows the NYPD to withhold contracts and other information dealing with tech/tools used in “confidential operations.” So, the city is completely complicit here, which differentiates this from the situation in Chicago. In New York, taxpayers are (or rather, aren’t) seeing their tax dollars spent on secret tech from a fund no one is allowed to oversee.
Combining secret tech with zero accountability is only the NYPD’s idea of a good time. Hopefully this national exposure will prompt the city to shred its memorandum of understanding and start over with some accountability measures in place.