There is a range of problems with the NYPD, and transparency is one. In the last week, we have seen too many examples of what happens without it. NYPD officers have been documented attacking protesters with pepper spray, batons, and an SUV. NYPD detectives have also been working with federal agents to question protest participants about their political beliefs.
For three years, New York’s privacy community has been calling on the City to adopt the POST Act, an ordinance that would provide transparency around NYPD's use of privacy-invasive surveillance technology. New Yorkers were reminded of the urgent need for this transparency when the NYPD's Deputy Chief of Counterterrorism and Intelligence suggested that the department's inability to anticipate large convergences was a failure to effectively "monitor gang's social media." Even in the opaque world of NYPD surveillance, what is known about NYPD's "gang" designation troubles researchers and civil liberties advocates. This concern is only exacerbated by the department's history of surveilling activist groups and, in recent years, Black Lives Matter activists in particular.
Now is the time for bold new thinking about how to dismantle the overreliance of police agencies in the United States on highly invasive spy tech. This is a moment of big ideas. This weekend, for example, Minneapolis City Council members called to disband their local police force, and a group of New York City Mayoral staffers called for action and policy reform.
For years, New York’s Mayor, Bill de Blasio, has joined the NYPD in opposing the POST Act. However, in recent days, Mayor de Blasio has nodded toward improving NYPD transparency. In his June 7 statement, de Blasio said he would support the State legislature's efforts to repeal section 50-A, a statute used by police departments to shield disciplinary records.
In the words of Angel Díaz, Liberty and National Security Counsel at The Brennan Center for Justice, "The POST Act's transparency and accountability requirements are essential to prevent an era of digital stop-and-frisk." In May, the Brennan Center, together with EFF and a coalition of over 40 civil society groups, called on City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to schedule a vote on the POST Act. Late last week, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project(an Electronic Frontier Alliance member) announced that the Speaker would be doing just that.
EFF commends Speaker Johnson, Public Advocate Jumanee Wiliams, and each of the POST Act’s 32 sponsors for taking this important step toward surveillance transparency. We hope that Mayor de Blasio's recent support for transparency of NYPD disciplinary records will be followed by a reassessment of his position on the POST Act.