Here’s how to find the surveillance tools police use in your city
Apr 16, 2023, 5:00 AM
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Police departments are stepping up their surveillance, adding drones to their tech collection. How closely does your local department monitor you? Here’s a searchable website you can use to see.
Atlas of Surveillance
The Atlas of Surveillance is a searchable database project from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It shows which surveillance technologies — such as drones, automated license plate readers, and facial recognition — are used by law enforcement agencies across the U.S.
The pilot program began as a collaboration between the EFF and the University of Nevada’s Reno Reynolds School of Journalism in 2019.
The information comes from public records, crowdsourcing, data journalism, news stories, social media posts, press releases, and volunteer assistance. As of November 2022, the Atlas of Surveillance has 10,000 data points, with at least partial data on 5,500 law enforcement agencies in all 50 states, plus most territories and districts.
The Atlas of Surveillance site says its information is only as good as the source and that government agencies can withhold information. Plus, there’s always the chance of misinterpretation.
While it’s impossible to fact-check every data point, each one is reviewed by multiple journalism students and staff. Let’s have a closer look at what it shows.
Types of surveillance in use around the US
Does a camera on every street corner make you nervous? Do you worry that your face is constantly being scanned against a database of who-knows-who? Some people don’t mind it, and others are really bothered by it.
The Atlas of Surveillance lets you search and view databases containing the following examples of surveillance:
● Automated License Plate Readers: Cameras attached to fixed locations or police cars that track license plates.
● Body-worn cameras: Video cameras attached to police uniforms.
● Camera registry: A voluntary registry of security cameras people have installed on their properties. Would you let police access your private security cameras any time they want?
● Cell-site simulator: Fake cellphone towers used to spy on people’s phones.
● Drones: Aerial vehicles police use to gather footage from above.
● Face recognition: Software that identifies a person from their face.
● Fusion Center: Intelligence centers that enable information sharing between local, state, tribal, territorial, and federal agencies.
● Gunshot detection: Acoustic sensors attached to street lights or buildings that passively listen for the sound of gunfire.
● Predictive policing: Software that suggests neighborhoods or people that need more police attention.
● Real-Time Crime Center: Police analyze surveillance video, intelligence, and other data from these hubs.
● Ring/Neighbors Partnership: Many police departments have partnerships with Ring. Have a Ring camera? Here’s how police can get your footage without permission.
● Video analytics: Computers automatically analyze video footage and feeds.
The Atlas is a map with over 10,000 data points across the country. Go to atlasofsurveillance.org/atlas to get started.
● Toggle data points on and off from the legend and zoom in and out as needed.
● Click on a data point for more information, such as the technology being employed, which department is using it, a summary of the system, and source links.
See what’s going on in your area
Want to narrow your search? Go to atlasofsurveillance.org/search to access a searchable database. Then:
● Enter a city, county, state, or agency in the U.S. and hit Update Search.
● Click more info on any result to get more information on the technology, the agency using it, the vendor, and more.
● Select or deselect the data you want to see from the list on the left.
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