Why Did The NYPD Hide Their Secret Surveillance Fund?

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New York City has always had its set of problems and ways to deal with them politically – and with their police force. Now, they are in the spotlight for their “secret” surveillance system, which uses controversial facial recognition technology. 

Documents made public by civil rights group Legal aid Society and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) call their former hidden project a “surveillance slush fund” or “Special Expenses Fund.” Most recently, STOP uncovered information on the NYPD’s purchase of over $277 million in top-secret surveillance equipment, which had been intentionally hidden from the public.  

By the way, the NYPD did not get approvals from the city council or other officials for these expenses. Documents and contracts have been concealed under the Special Expenses program, a secret agreement terminated in 2020.  

The current mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, supports the city’s ongoing, and now out in the open, surveillance system and continues to push it forward. 

In January at a press briefing, Adams said “We will also move forward on using the latest in technology to identify problems, follow up on leads and collect evidence — from facial recognition technology to new tools that can spot those carrying weapons, we will use every available method to keep our people safe.”

Clearview, a facial recognition firm that has almost 100 billion photos in its database, gave the NYPD a 90-day free trial of their software in April 2021. Although the NYPD was already using facial recognition cameras, they expressed concern regarding Clearview’s collection of personal information and turned down a partnership. According to sources, the NYPD rejected the app because of possible security risks and the potential for abuse.

Boyce Robert Boyce, retired chief of detectives at the NYPD, said the department has stringent guidelines for using face recognition technology and is typically not allowed to use it without case numbers and supervisor approval. He also contended that FRT (facial recognition technology) should be accepted by more cities and used more widely around the US.

The use of FRT goes beyond the states and is being used heavily in China, which rolled out its social credit system algorithm fully in 2020. China, a proud communist country, uses the technology to ensure citizens are ‘behaving and not walking across streets in an unruly way’. London is deploying a program to scan faces in real-time, like China, and run them through software to scan for matches of wanted criminals or individuals. This will help keep dangerous people off the streets, especially in terror attacks. 

“It’s been very helpful in a lot of cases in identifying violent suspects in crimes — quite a few sexual-related assaults and shootings where they were able to identify or get a lead to enhance the investigation through the facial recognition,” Paul DiGiacomo, president of law enforcement union the Detectives’ Endowment Association, said in an interview.

According to reports, the NYPD has reported five misidentifications using FRT between 2011 and 2017, and three known cases of false arrests. 

As if the secret fund didn’t have enough controversy around it, most recently, Forbes reported the use of the NYPD’s FRT is mostly used in non-white neighborhoods and boroughs. Could this be a racist move by New York’s Big Apple? 

According to an Amnesty International study, there are at least 25,000 cameras in New York City. Brooklyn was reported to have the most cameras (over 9,000), which is a mostly non-white area of New York City.  John Miller, New York City Police Department Deputy Commissioner, told ABC News, violent crime victims are “overwhelmingly” people of color. 

Perhaps this is why the cameras are primarily in non-white neighborhoods.

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