While some police departments and sheriff's offices are left to oversee themselves, many cities and counties around the country have adopted civilian oversight bodies. Often composed of everyday citizens, these boards and commissions are charged with investigating misconduct complaints against law enforcement, from intense police brutality to minor violations of departmental policies.
New law enforcement technologies are raising new questions about what civil rights abuses look like in the digital age. Historically, allegations of police misconduct were based on visible behavior: people generally know when they have been assaulted, detained unjustly, or had their property searched or seized without due process. Today, civil rights violations occur on computer screens, amplified by automated processes, or exacted invisibly and indiscriminately on large populations. These problems are exacerbated by a lack of transparency, with journalists and researchers unable to access records critical to an informed public debate.
That's where civilian oversight bodies may have a role.
To coincide with the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) annual conference in Riverside, CA, this week, EFF has developed a short primer that explains a few of the most common emerging technologies, including IMSI catchers (i.e. Stingrays), automated license plate recognition, drones, and mobile biometrics. The paper also touches upon ways that police are analyzing and infiltrating online social networks. We lay out emerging civil liberties issues, as well as what actions oversight boards should take and what questions they should ask regarding local law enforcement surveillance.
EFF Investigative Researcher Dave Maass will be at the conference for a panel on law enforcement technology at 1:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6. He'll be joined by experts in the field such as: Peter Bibring, Director of Police Practices/Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Southern California; Kelvyn Anderson, executive director of the City of Philadelphia's Police Advisory Commission; Center for Investigative Reporting/Reveal Journalist Ali Winston; and MuckRock Projects Editor Shawn Musgrave.