Category Archives: Surveillance

The many ways the government is watching us with an emphasis on digital spying

Fresno Sheriff’s Office Accused of Ignoring Public Record Laws Over Drone Surveillance

by Nadia Lopez. Originally published in the Fresno Bee

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office is being sued for failing to release records about its use of surveillance equipment, location tracking technologies and data collection operations, according to a lawsuit filed last month.

The Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project, a watchdog group named after the late computer programmer and hacker, filed the lawsuit in November with the Fresno County Superior Court after more than two years of attempting to retrieve documents.

According to the lawsuit, the group made six public records requests between December 2018 and January 2019 over the agency’s use of unarmed drones, license plate readers, thermal cameras, social media monitoring and predictive algorithmic software as well as any potential contracts with federal law enforcement agencies.

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Open Vallejo Podcast: Tiny Constables

This Open Vallejo podcast focuses on the City of Vallejo’s purchase of a cell site simulator or stingray, a dangerous and expensive piece of surveillance equipment used to track the location of a cell phone by impersonating a cell phone tower.

Oakland Privacy, the Bay Area’s ant-surveillance coalition, sued the City of Vallejo to enforce state law and require the City to allow public comment and a City Council vote on the device’s usage policy.

MA ED Tracy Rosenberg is a contributor to this edition of the Open Vallejo podcast entitled “Tiny Constables.

Court Upholds Legal Challenge Under California Statewide Stingray Law

by Marilyn Fidler. Originally posted on LawFare

In late November, a California state court issued a final decision interpreting a 2015 California state law regulating government agency use of cell site simulators, devices that can be used to locate and track cell phones. The devices are commonly known as “stingrays.” The challenge—the first brought under this law—argued that the City of Vallejo was not in compliance with the law’s requirement that a local public body approve, at a public meeting, both police acquisition of the technology and a policy determining how and when these devices can be used. The court upheld this view of the law, providing an important victory for transparency.

Stingray devices present serious privacy risks because they allow law enforcement to track the physical location of anyone with a cell phone in real time. Originally billed as anti-terrorism tools, police often use them in routine investigations of nonviolent crimes. Furthermore, stingray devices can access data about all phones in an area, ranging from a few hundred yards to about 2 miles, even if the police are interested in only one device. Because of these “dragnet” capabilities, I and others have argued that localities should have the opportunity to decide if and how stingray and similar devices should be used in their communities. The California state law mandates this local decision-making process, providing an opportunity for needed transparency and democratic oversight.

The law was untested in court, allowing localities to interpret the law to their benefit, which, for city governments, often means the least resource-intensive view. Vallejo, for example, argued that as long as someone in the city government created a usage and privacy policy, it was in compliance with the law. The court’s ruling reaffirmed that a public decision-making process about when and how these devices are used is required by law.

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SF Police Sued Over Public/Private Camera Use To Surveil BLM Protests

Three San Francisco residents who participated in protests that followed the death of George Floyd, have sued the San Francisco Police Department for use of the camera network of the Union Square Business Improvement District to monitor those protests.

Hope Williams, Nathan Sheard and Nestor Reyes, represented by attorneys at the ACLU of Northern California and Electronic Frontier Foundation filed Williams vs San Francisco under San Francisco’s May 2019 surveillance oversight ordinance.

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Vallejo police expand community surveillance with license plate readers

By Andres Torres. Originally printed on

VALLEJO, Calif. – Vallejo Police Department on Tuesday announced a partnership with Atlanta-based startup, Flock Safety that expands surveillance using license plate readers (LPR) throughout Vallejo. 

The surveillance technology is being touted as a crime-fighting tool. Police have “strategically placed” 10 LPRs throughout the city at a cost of $2,496 a year each, which includes maintenance and installation. Police said there is at least one privatized installation in a neighborhood through a homeowners association. 

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Ringing Alarm Bells

A study of implicit bias in consumer surveillance device use in San Francisco

Noting the rapid spread of Ring/Law Enforcement collaborative agreements in Northern California, Oakland Privacy embarked on a study of the content that device owners in San Francisco post to the Ring smartphone application “Neighbors”.

Working with a sample set of 131 videos drawn from the city of San Francisco and scraped by researchers at MIT, our volunteers reviewed the videos (several times) and accompanying post content.

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Criticism Mounts Over Trump’s Immigrant Biometric Data Plan

Written by Raoul Walawalker, political commentator for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of immigration lawyers based in the US, UK and Ireland

Just as the wearing or non-wearing of masks can show how polarised views across the US can be over the coronavirus pandemic, September was a month that also showed a sharp divergence of opinion over immigration laws and the use of biometrics.

On September 11, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) presented a proposed regulation for a major expansion in its collection and use of biometric data in the enforcement and administration of immigration laws, even as some states were announcing plans to ban or scale back their use of biometrics following growing concerns over privacy and evidence of racial and other in-built biases.

A draft of the proposal was seen ten days earlier by BuzzFeed News and had already stirred bafflement at the scale of proposed data-gathering. Also noted was the absence of a reasoned attempt to justify placing all immigrants (including minors, millions of legal immigrants and US sponsors) under unprecedented levels of surveillance and proof of identity burdens.

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40 Groups Ask Oversight Board For Facial Recognition Moratorium

40 groups, including Media Alliance, wrote to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) urging it to call for the suspension of all facial recognition use pending further review.

The letter states: The PCLOB has a unique responsibility, set out in statute, to assess technologies and policies that impact the privacy of Americans after 9-11 and to make recommendations to the President and to the executive branch. The rapid and unregulated deployment of facial recognition poses a direct threat to “the precious liberties that are vital to our way of life”. We urge the PCLOB to act now to safeguard the privacy rights of Americans.