When journalists want to know if and how local police or governments are using technology tools to surveil communities, one of the first people they call (or message on Signal) is Dave Maass, EFF Director of Investigations.
Maass’ expertise in the use of police tech like automated license plate readers, drones, and camera networks, and his work pushing governments to be more transparent, has earned him accolades by reporters, researchers, and citizens. Today, Maass will receive the Sunshine Award from the San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SD-SPJ) in recognition of this important work.
Maass is the driving force behind the EFF-led Atlas of Surveillance project, the largest-ever collection of searchable data on police use of surveillance technologies. Built using crowdsourcing, data journalism, and public records requests in partnership with Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, the Atlas of Surveillance documents the alarming increase in the use of unchecked high-tech tools that collect biometric records, photos, and videos of people in their communities, locate and track them via their cell phones, and purport to predict where crimes will be committed. San Diego County was one of early communities examined in work on the Atlas.
"San Diego County has long been a hot spot for law enforcement surveillance tech, from handheld face recognition devices to extreme drone 'first responder' programs,’” Maass said. “Over the last few years, it's been a pleasure to help journalists across numerous regional news outlets probe these new technologies, be it through sharing knowledge or documents EFF has collected or elevating the work these reporters have produced. San Diego journalism has not only helped start a dialogue over surveillance tech, it has also helped shape the conversation in favor of accountability, privacy, and civil rights.”
Maass worked as an investigative journalist for San Diego County alt weekly newspapers before coming to EFF in 2013. He has been previously honored for his investigative series into deaths at San Diego County jails and the use of pepper spray in its juvenile halls. His reputation for annoying the local politicians with public records requests led the San Diego City Council to declare Feb. 13, 2013 as “Dave Maass Day.”
The Atlas of Surveillance began with a pilot project focused on all the counties along the U.S.-Mexico border, but San Diego County ended up being as great and rewarding a challenge as the other 22 counties combined, Maass says. The project included more than 250 technologies in communities along the border, and that laid the groundwork for the full Atlas of Surveillance project, which now contains 9,000 datapoints nationwide.
In addition to leading EFF’s deep-dive investigations in how law enforcement on local, state and federal level use surveillance technologies, Maass coordinates many of EFF’s large-scale public records campaigns, advocates for state legislation and compilesThe Foilies, our annual review of outrageous FOIA responses. He is also a Scholar in Residence lecturing on cybersecurity, surveillance and public records laws at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.
According to the SD-SPJ, its Sunshine Award is bestowed on a “journalist or community member who went above and beyond to make the government more transparent and hold elected officials accountable.”
San Diego-based journalist Katy Stegall told the SD-SPJ that Maass is “one of the few experts in the country who is able to explain this highly complex topic to both academics, reporters, activists and any layperson who wants to learn more about surveillance.”
“His deep knowledge and understanding of the topic is even further amplified by his passion, willingness and flexibility to meet others where they are and help them fully understand how surveillance impacts communities,” Stegall said.