The NYCLU conducted an exhaustive inquiry into the policies of each police department. Through our interaction, we have found that the Rochester Police Department:
- Generally was responsive to our public information requests, providing most of the requested documents and policies – or at least acknowledgements of the absence of such documents – and, unlike some other departments, made it easy for us to navigate through the hundreds of pages produced.
- Surreptitiously used “Stingrays,” military grade technology that mimics cell phone towers and allows police to spy on cell phones in the areas by sweeping up data on people’s locations and the numbers they call. The Department provided records showing that they used the technology 13 times between January 2012 and May 2015, but only had legal authorization for nine of those uses. The Department also provided us with a copy of the nondisclosure agreement with the FBI that sought to prevent public disclosure about the use or even existence of the devices.
Policy Spotlight: Surveillance Technologies
Police departments frequently obtain and use new and invasive technologies without letting the public – or even local lawmakers – know. Because of the serious risks these technologies pose to our privacy, there needs to be more transparency about what tools police are using and what’s being done to safeguard sensitive information being swept up in the mix. Often, these devices are deployed faster than thoughtful policies governing their use can be created and vetted. The documents we received appeared to show that Rochester did not have a policy governing the use of its Stingrays separate from its more general surveillance policies. Those general policies at least included some good provisions, like commitments to destroy or seal information they acquire inadvertently, but did not fully reckon with all the legal and privacy concerns implicated by the devices. To fully understand the scope and impact of surveillance on our communities, local police departments must actively engage the public in decisions over how – and more fundamentally, whether – to deploy new technologies before deciding to spend huge sums of money to obtain and use them.
You can learn more about the policies by clicking the cards below.
Documents received by March 2016.