CONCORD – As police gain access to increasingly advanced surveillance tools, researchers are building a nationwide open-source technology database to help level the playing field between companies that sell equipment to departments and the citizens who pay them.
the Electronic Frontier Foundation Surveillance Atlas uses public information and an army of student journalists to document tools used by local law enforcement and the dissemination of equipment such as facial recognition technology and drones.
The database contains 16 entries for all of New Hampshire. There are fewer entries in part because state policing is spread across many small towns instead of large metropolitan police departments which tend to generate more public reviews and reports.
New Hampshire departments use three of the most common technologies found in the database: body cameras, drones, and license plate readers. The City of Lebanon maintains a Camera Registry, where private citizens with cameras like the Amazon Ring can register to add their cameras to a larger surveillance system.
The database also includes the New Hampshire Information Analysis Center at Concord, one of 79 fusion centers nationwide. In fusion centers, where a variety of surveillance technologies can be used in one location, local and state law enforcement collects and analyzes intelligence with the US Department of Homeland Security.
An effort in neighboring Maine to shut down its own fusion center failed in the state Senate last summer after being passed in the House. A whistleblower had accused the center of illegally monitoring gun buyers, environmental protesters and workers at an Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding camp.
Dave Maass, director of investigations at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the Atlas of Surveillance is important because there is an imbalance of power between the companies that market this technology to law enforcement and those affected by it. how these technologies shape the police, however subtle or unintentionally. .
“What we find in the country is that there is often this very comfortable relationship between the surveillance vendors and the police,” Maass said. Salespeople come to law enforcement conferences and try to sell departments their miracle products, arguments that ordinary citizens don’t get a chance to attend.
“Many decisions are made regarding surveillance in closed meetings without input from the community on what is acceptable and what is needed for the community,” he said.
In some extreme cases, the public does not know why they are paying.
One form of technology that does not appear in the database is the “DEU Communications” equipment which cost Concord taxpayers $ 5,200 this year.
The business services budget item also appeared in FY2021, along with the FY2020 budget, when it cost $ 5,100 and was called “secret communications equipment”. Disclosure of the technology was the subject of a Supreme Court ruling on To watch and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire brought against the town of Concord in 2019.
In a Dec. 7 opinion, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled the city can keep the vendor’s name and the nature of its service a secret, even from ACLU-NH attorneys arguing the case.
While the city won’t reveal what the technology is, Maass’s research indicates that it is likely a mobile phone service provided by the Motorola-owned Callyo company, pronounced Call-ee-yo.
Callyo’s investigative products have a range of uses, including allowing law enforcement to mask phone numbers and record communications between victims and suspects. More than 30 US patents associated with the company have names such as “Controlled Recorded Three-Way Call” and “Virtual Numbers for Intelligence Operations”.
“Using the virtual number, the operator can set up a controlled call between a victim and a bad guy,” describes a patent.
In its promotional material, Callyo says its products help law enforcement protect the most vulnerable victims of crime, such as victims of human trafficking and child pornography.
Concord said revealing the name of the vendor or the type of technology could potentially endanger the lives of police officers. Yet other departments openly disclose to the public how they use similar equipment and why.
Concord Police Chief Brad Osgood declined to confirm whether the police department used Callyo’s services.
“I’m not going to tell you if that’s the product,” Osgood said.
Many departments that use Callyo don’t keep it a secret.
In fact, hundreds of other law enforcement agencies contract with Callyo, including the Davie, Florida Police Department; Richmond, California; and Seattle, Washington.
Under a 2017 city ordinance, the Seattle Police Department is required to publicly explain how it uses surveillance tools like this one that pose a “high risk to privacy.”
In 2021, the ministry published a public surveillance impact report concerning Callyo products.
“The technology can record all calls made to / from the masked phone, secretly record audio, as well as locate a caller’s phone by GPS,” the department explained. “When the Seattle Police Department uses Callyo to record conversations, the technology is only used with a search warrant.”
When installed on an agent’s phone, Callyo’s mobile service can hide a phone number assigned to an existing phone and show a different local number on calls, according to the report.
When asked why other police departments like Seattle might treat the public disclosure of information about Callyo any differently, Osgood said, “I have no knowledge of what other departments are doing with products from this. type.”
In 2020, the City of Concord spent approximately $ 360 on filing and transcription fees related to the case. In late December, the city said it did not keep any record of staff time used to keep the contract secret and that by law it did not have to create a file to provide this information.
The Atlas of Surveillance began in 2018 as a collaboration between the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. Designed to allow students and other volunteers to undertake discrete and independent tasks, the database shows how crowdsourcing can be used to collect large amounts of information.
Maass said the database now has more than 8,000 individual data points pulled from various public sources.
“The three methods that go into the Atlas of Surveillance are three journalistic methods,” Maass said. “One is crowdsourcing, working with large groups of people to put information together. Two would be data journalism, acquiring datasets and converting them into maps. And three would be public record requests.
Since the database relies on publicly available information, it offers only an incomplete picture of the technology used by the police nationwide.
“If there isn’t a journalist writing about it, we’re not going to find any information about it. If there isn’t a government website where they post meeting agendas, we won’t find it, ”Maass said.
However, the database is already providing important information for researchers, journalists and citizens concerned with surveillance in their communities.
“It’s the biggest of its kind right now,” he said.