LA Sheriff's Dept. On New Surveillance Program: We Knew The Public Wouldn't Like It, So We Kept It A Secret

from the because-screw-those-whiners-and-their-'rights' dept

As we've noted several times before, law enforcement and investigative agencies tend to roll out expanded surveillance systems without bothering to run it by the citizens they're planning to surveil. The systems and programs are deployed, FOIA battles are waged and, finally, at some point, the information makes its way to the public. It is only then that most agencies start considering the privacy implications of their surveillance systems, and these are usually addressed by begrudging, minimal protections being belatedly applied.

Now, it's obvious why these agencies don't inform the public of their plans. They may uses terms like "security" and "officer safety" and theorize that making any details public would just allow criminals to find ways to avoid the persistent gaze of multiple surveillance options, but underneath it all, they know the public isn't going to just sit there and allow them to deploy intrusive surveillance programs.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is using a new surveillance program utilizing the technology of a private contractor doing business under the not-scary-at-all name of "Persistent Surveillance Systems." This gives the LASD a literal eye in the sky that provides coverage it can't achieve with systems already in place. But it does more than just give the LASD yet another camera. It provides the agency with some impressive tools to manipulate the recordings.

The system, known as wide-area surveillance, is something of a time machine – the entire city is filmed and recorded in real time. Imagine Google Earth with a rewind button and the ability to play back the movement of cars and people as they scurry about the city.

“We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” [Ross] McNutt [owner of Persistent Surveillance Systems] said. “Our goal was to basically jump to where reported crimes occurred and see what information we could generate that would help investigators solve the crimes.”
As with nearly everything making its way into law enforcement hands these days, this technology was developed and deployed first in battlefields. Persistent Surveillance Systems' first proving grounds were Afghanistan and Iraq, tracking down bombing suspects. All it takes is a cluster of high-powered cameras and a single civilian plane to watch over Compton with warzone-quality surveillance. According to McNutt, the camera system covers "10,000 times" the area a single police helicopter can. McNutt also believes the system can be expanded to cover an area as large as the entire city of San Francisco.

While the cameras aren't quite powerful enough to allow the LASD to make use of another, increasingly popular technological tool -- facial recognition -- this still gives the LASD an unprecedented coverage area. Camera technology continues to improve, so there's no reason to believe a few of McNutt's planes won't someday (possibly very soon) have the power to assist the LASD with adding new mugshots to its databases.

But, as pointed out earlier, where does the public fit into all of this? Were privacy concerns addressed before moving forward with Persistent Surveillance Systems? I'm not even going to try to set up this astounding response from an LASD officer. Just read it:
“The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,” (LASD Sgt.) Iketani said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”
You know, it's one thing to think this. We know from experience that many law enforcement officials (as well as the rank-and-file) absolutely resent being publicly accountable and having to make the occasional token effort to respect civil liberties, so it's not surprising that the LASD knew the easiest way to avoid a negative public was to lock the public out.

It is, however, quite another thing to come out on record and say this. This shows just how little the LASD actually cares about the public's concerns. The agency knew the public wouldn't be happy and an official comes right out and tells the public that his agency and others don't really care. What they don't know won't hurt them... until it's too late to do anything about it.

This was followed up by another statement from an LAPD official, who noted that frogs generally come around to the idea of being boiled to death.
The center’s commanding officer, Capt. John Romero, recognizes the concerns but equates them with public resistance to street lights in America’s earliest days.

“People thought that this is the government trying to see what we’re doing at night, to spy on us,” Romero said. “And so over time, things shifted, and now if you try to take down street lights in Los Angeles or Boston or anywhere else, people will say no.”
There's no honesty or accountability in these statements. There's only an admission that Los Angeles law enforcement feels the public is there to serve them and not the other way around. Hiding your plans from the public doesn't instill confidence that their rights will be respected. Neither does telling them they'll "get used to it." Instead, it creates an even more antagonistic environment, one where the public is viewed as a nuisance at best by people whose power is derived from the same citizens they so obviously have no respect for.



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  • icon
    silverscarcat (profile), 17 Apr 2014 @ 7:39am

    There is a limit to how far people can be pushed...

    And no amount of Orwellian surveillance will save your life when you push too far.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Babylonandon, 19 Apr 2014 @ 7:53pm

      Re: There is a limit to how far people can be pushed...

      And THAT is what they have all those SWAT teams, MRAPS, armed robots, fully automatic firearms, military grade body armor, and other toys for.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jay (profile), 17 Apr 2014 @ 8:04am

    The public...

    "The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is using a new surveillance program utilizing the technology of a private contractor doing business under the not-scary-at-all name of "Persistent Surveillance Systems.""

    Well no wonder people are PSS'd at LA police...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 8:12am

    Of course there's no chance

    That one of the psychopaths on the police force would ever avail themselves of this data in order to stalk anyone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 8:30am

    Okay, so the cat is out of the bag. What happens next? Resounding silence? Because as he already said "The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in THE PUBLIC" (my uppercase). So the local pols were all on board and they also kept it from THE PUBLIC (you know, the people who elect them) ? That seems to be the implication.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      PRMan, 17 Apr 2014 @ 11:36am

      Re:

      What's next is some hacker finds the database and posts the whole thing on Wikileaks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 1:00pm

        Re: Re:

        Or... doesn't post it to Wikileaks

        Instead they sell it, or use it for their own nefarious purposes.

        When such data exists, the temptation is simply too great to use it for evil, that's why it should never be collected in the first place.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 1:18pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I could see someone hacking the feed and then using the technology to keep tabs on where cops are so that a criminal could escape. Don't even have to hack the feed just get your own version up an running if you have the money.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 8:33am

    Just wait

    Until they figure out they can use this system to send out speeding tickets and pile on extra fines/charges when they rue it to investigate a serious crime or vehicle collision.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 8:44am

    As they say, it's easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 11:09am

      Re:

      Its really not, i lost my best friend because he did something with that attitude in mind, fuck that...if you are thinking that your a selfish selfish person.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 8:45am

    "Yeah, we knew the public would hate us for imposing this dystopian nightmare on them, so we did it anyway and just didn't tell them."
    Stay classy, LAPD.

    Can someone sue and get this cavalcade of bad ideas declared unconstitutional? There has to be at least one judge still alive with enough functioning gray matter left to be able to understand "police filming everyone 24/7 = Fourth Amendment violation".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Zos (profile), 17 Apr 2014 @ 8:52am

    Shit, they've brought Samaritan online in LA instead of New York...someone warn Finch!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DSchneider (profile), 17 Apr 2014 @ 8:58am

    I really don't understand

    I mean I understand why they would want a system like this. Drive by shooting...just roll back the tape and see where the car came from and where it went.

    What I don't understand is why they don't bring in privacy experts to advise them on these systems. They know the blow back once its found out is going to be huge and possibly get the whole thing shut down. Why not bring in the ACLU, Larry Lessig, etc and say "This is what we're planning to do, these are the benefits we see to this. What kind of safeguards can we put in place to protect privacy, make this acceptable to the public, and still achieve our goals?"

    Maybe there are none and they just continue as they were, but maybe, just maybe there would be a way to keep the system in place, catch bad guys, and still protect the rights of everyone else. Problem is, until they do this we'll never know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      scotts13 (profile), 17 Apr 2014 @ 9:56am

      Re: I really don't understand

      How is the public outcry going to get it shut down? You have no way to do that without a referendum, and you can only have a referendum if the incumbent politicians allow it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 9:04am

    reading the original article

    The original article was very pro camera, with only a blip at the end talking about the secret nature of the rollout.

    Sure the cameras will help law enforcement solve crimes and may even help prevent crimes in public because of the risk of being caught on camera. However the fact that police declined to talk to the public only helps instill distrust. This causes other problems because the public isn't willing to help police in the event of a crime. So now the police work will have other road blocks. (I wonder how long it will take them to realize they are causing their own failures?)

    In the end I wonder how the cops would feel if the technology was used just to watch their own activities. That way people could watch for abuse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 9:08am

    If I lived in Compton I would put tarps up all around my property so that the eye in the sky can't see my lawn or anyone on it.

    Maybe even put a few choice phrases on the top so the police can read it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 9:55am

    so this was from the NSA LA Sheriffs dept was it? if not, they should apply for positions because they are right up there in interview status! they should have thought about what could be used to achieve something near what they wanted without fucking the public over!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 10:08am

    Unbrellas

    I bet they are going to be buying a lot more umbrellas in that city. Unless they make those illegal or they have to be clear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 17 Apr 2014 @ 10:13am

    You criminals you

    They won't tell us about the new programs? They must have something to hide!

    And since "something to hide" equates to "criminal activity" in the common sense statement, "If you have nothing to hide, then you don't have anything to worry about," then the cops must be criminals.

    Bust yourselves, LA cops!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Robert P (profile), 17 Apr 2014 @ 10:18am

    "...so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”

    The level of honesty from this officer clearly can not be tolerated. He should be fired immediately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Steve Gates, 17 Apr 2014 @ 10:18am

    Public service

    When did police forget that they are public servants paid out of public money?

    If the public would be against what you are doing then why would you even consider it?

    Sometime soon American apathy will be pushed to the limit and revolution will happen again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 17 Apr 2014 @ 12:42pm

      Re: Public service

      About the same time they realized they don't actually answer to the public, and can do pretty much whatever they want to without repercussions, so it's been a while.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 10:52am

    Hate to rain on your parade...

    but most aerial surveillance systems are pretty useless in bad weather.

    Too bad it never rains in southern California...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2014 @ 3:00am

      Re: Hate to rain on your parade...

      I remember as a kid in the 80's and early 90's here in Canada, in my province anyway, on the highways there were sporadic green signs saying "Aerial Surveillance". My dad, who's a trucker was telling me it was mostly to scare people and that it would be too expensive to constantly monitor highways with planes.

      Sure, times have changed since then, but this is one massive mostly useless (I bet) waste of public money, agains the public with their on money, much much more than those couple highways in semi-rural Canada and its supposed constant aerial monitoring.

      Somehow I think now that they talked about it, it's gonna be scrapped or watered down just so your american rights are just slightly crushed instead of trampled.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 11:17am

    And of course the LA police will be issued a device that will block recording of police activity, for officer safety.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    aldestrawk (profile), 17 Apr 2014 @ 12:13pm

    The KQED program about PSS quoted one LA sheriff as saying that this was a test and LASD is not planning to use PSS on a regular basis. Not that privacy was the issue that swayed them against adopting it, rather it was cost vs efficacy in solving crimes. The LASD does care about public opinion concerning surveillance insofar as public outcry can serve as an impediment to the adoption of any particular technology by the law enforcement.

    Even if the cameras in the plane were higher resolution facial recognition still cannot be applied to the images. That is, unless you can get the person to look up at the plane somehow. One of the LA sheriffs noted that PSS posed the least intrusive surveillance technique compared to the other new technologies coming in to play.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 1:37pm

    Is LAPD off the hook with DOJ's civil rights monitoring?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2014 @ 3:34pm

    How to end it

    Simply make it a law that any and all such systems must be immediately available to the public in its entirerity. Then demonstrate how it can be used to monitor the police. It will suddenly have an uproar in the police and be discontinued.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    J.R., 17 Apr 2014 @ 4:18pm

    Public Surveillance

    The Public = Enemy #1.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Franklin, 17 Apr 2014 @ 6:49pm

    Want a demo of this tech?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Doyle Hall, 18 Apr 2014 @ 11:59am

    Police Spying

    Somehow spying on innocent people to catch criminals does't set right with me. Law enforcement needs to know that there are limits to what the public will accept. Being constantly spied on just to do it should remain in the realm of criminal conduct. Privacy has a proper place in society. I slso think that the general public should have evert right to observe law enforcement officers as they go about their work in the public eye. After all, they are on the job,serving us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Despiser, 18 Apr 2014 @ 9:47pm

      Re: Police Spying

      Not if you make everything illegal... You know that CO2 youre spewing out 24/7/365, the EPA is going to send out its SWAT teams to remedy that lil problem...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    cavmedic, 18 Apr 2014 @ 1:03pm

    Ironically, this technology is useless for finding law breaking illegal immigrants, with amenesty and reform needed to bring illegals "out of the shadows.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Warren Bonesteel, 18 Apr 2014 @ 1:35pm

    Rule of law?

    When there's one set of laws for them and another set for thee and me? That's called tyranny.

    America is a corrupt oligarchy. America hasn't been a legitimate democracy in decades. We haven't been a republic for *well* over a hundred years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Despiser, 18 Apr 2014 @ 9:44pm

    Socialism is the message, Marxism is the strategy and Fascism is the goal...

    Democrats lost America's first Civil War because they enslaved Black people. Democrats are going to lose America's second Civil War because they attempted to enslave everyone else...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Apr 2014 @ 12:25pm

      Re: Socialism is the message, Marxism is the strategy and Fascism is the goal...

      You know that at some point Republicans and Democrats reversed into each other. Anyway you have a one party system since a long time now, remember the Democrat-Republicans (or was it Republican-Democrats)? Your 2 parties are basically the split inside that one party back then.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2014 @ 11:51pm

    Not sure how long it'll take for LA to elect a mayor who vows to destroy the corrupt LAPD. But it will happen.

    The LASD will take longer because it covers an area with more, smaller governments.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    wireless camera, 25 Feb 2015 @ 4:35am

    Wireless cameras

    IP NETWORK MICRO CAMERA 3MP MODULE

    3 Mega pixel WiFi microcamera with sensitive microphone. Clear and perfect images through the net.

    The WiFi module IP-3MP uses really interesting technical features: a tiny camera with wide-angle CMOS sensor 3 Mega pixels, a sensitive microphone, RJ45 connection for network interfacing and wireless antenna. The wide angle of micro-camera allows you to focus on whole environments, sending back very comprehensive and detailed images.

    The IP-3MP requires no special installation devices, because it works remotely through the Internet network. It’s possible to customize and install the device in any objects such as wall clocks or generally small appliances.

    http://www.endoacustica.com/ip-micro-camera-wifi-module.htm

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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