NYPD blues: Cops ignored 93 percent of surveillance law rules
Who watches the watchmen? The Office of the Inspector General
Back in July 2020, then New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act into law, which required the New York Police Department to reveal how it uses surveillance technology and to formulate surveillance policies.
The NYPD, however, has rejected 93 percent of the advice from an independent oversight body, the Department of Investigations' (DOI) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the force about how to comply with the law. According to OIG's Ninth Annual Report [PDF], the cop watchdog made 15 recommendations and the NYPD refused to implement 14 of them.
These include recommendations like identifying the organizations with which NYPD shares surveillance data: "NYPD should identify in each IUP [Impact and Use Policy] each external agency, by name, with which the Department can share surveillance data."
NYPD, according to the report, argues that it has complied with the POST Act, found in a previous OIG report [PDF] to fall short of community expectations because it "did not require the same level of transparency with respect to the use of surveillance technology as other jurisdictions require…"
The OIG agrees its recommendation is not an explicit requirement of the law, but says that following its recommendation will allow the watchdog to audit NYPD's POST Act compliance and that it is required by law to "study, audit and make recommendations relating to the operations, policies, programs and practices" of the city police.
The non-profit Surveillance Oversight Technology Project (STOP) in a statement repeated its demand that the City Council pass broader surveillance legislation, including an amendment to the city's POST Act to ban controversial technologies like facial recognition.
“The NYPD continues to make clear that they don’t care what the law says,” said Surveillance Technology Oversight Project executive director Albert Fox Cahn. "This report helps support what advocates have said for years: that the NYPD is violating the POST Act."
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NYPD's use of facial recognition technology has drawn fire from other organizations like Amnesty International. NYPD maintains facial recognition is a useful investigative tool and claims that federal government studies have shown it can be used in a way that avoids misidentification.
Not all of the federal government is so keen on facial recognition: The General Services Administration (GSA) somewhat scandalously declined to implement face scanning in its Login.gov service, citing uneven performance on different types of people despite authentication standards that endorse it.
Just trying to help
Asked to comment on the DOI OIG report, a spokesperson for the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information (DCPI) told The Register, "The role of the city's Office of Inspector General is important in city government and the NYPD remains committed to working collaboratively with the office as we move forward in improving all of the department's programs, policies and operations and practices.
"The NYPD shares the goal with the office of ensuring public safety and will absorb this report as the department continues working to build stronger relationships with all of those we serve in New York City."
The DCPI spokesperson said that the NYPD has implemented or accepted nearly 75 percent of DOI's recommendations since 2015 and continued to work with DOI to improve police services.
Indeed, the report says the NYPD has rejected around 25 percent of DOI recommendations over the past eight years but it has only fully accepted 58.5 percent. The remainder consists of partially implemented (10.5 percent), accepted in principle (3.5 percent), and under consideration (2 percent).
That seemingly favorable percentage follows from considering all 18 of OIG-NYPD Recommendations To NYPD from 2015-2022. Considered individually, specific sets of recommendations like "An Assessment of NYPD’s Response to the POST ACT," saw a 93.3 percent rejection rate.
"The DOI released a report in 2022 which found that the NYPD is fully compliant with the POST Ac," the DCPI spokesperson said. "As such, the NYPD is one of the most transparent police agencies in the nation, providing detailed information on various surveillance technologies in use by the NYPD."
Cahn from STOP took issue with that statement. "The NYPD continues to systematically hide the billions it spends on unproven and biased surveillance technology," he said in an email to The Register. "It's bad when the Department wastes money that puts New Yorkers in harm's way and shreds the Constitution, but it’s even worse when they lie about it.
"The City Council was clear in what they expected from the NYPD, and the Department simply isn't following the law. Now they just are flat out lying when they say they fully comply with the POST Act. The POST Act is one of the weakest surveillance oversight laws in the country, but the NYPD still refuses to meet even these minimal transparency requirements." ®