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EFF Releases Database that Tracks Law Enforcement’s Use of High Tech Surveillance Gear

by Douglas Ankney

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”) partnered with Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada-Reno (“RSJ”), to release for use by journalists, academics, and the general public a database containing thousands of data points on over 3,000 sheriff’s offices and police departments nationwide. The Atlas of Surveillance database provides details on the technologies various agencies within law enforcement are employing to spy on citizens. Users may search by region, town, or city on a U.S. map by simply typing in the name of the location. Or they may search a specific technology being deployed and see how the use of it is spreading across the country.

Built over the past year and a half using crowdsourcing and data journalism, the Atlas of Surveillance documents the disturbing increase of sophisticated equipment that collects biometric records, photos, and videos of people in their communities; locates and tracks people via their cellphones, and allegedly predicts where future crimes will occur. “There are two questions we get all the time,” said Dave Maass, a senior investigative researcher in EFF’s threat lab and a visiting professor at the RSJ. “What surveillance is in my hometown, and how are technologies like drones and automated license plate readers spreading across the country?” EFF and the RSJ partnered to answer those questions through a monumental newsgathering effort that encompassed hundreds of journalism students and volunteers. Information was collected on the most pervasive surveillance technologies under deployment, such as drones, automated license plate readers, face recognition, cell-site simulators, predictive policing, gunshot detections sensors, police partnerships with Amazon’s Ring camera network, and more. According to Maass, what was uncovered is a “sprawling spy state that reaches from face recognition in the Hawaiian Islands to predictive policing in Maine, from body-worn cameras in remote Alaska to real-time crime centers along Florida’s Gold Coast.”



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