Debate Brewing Over Bill Aimed At Keeping Tabs On NYPD Surveillance

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s a new proposed measure aimed at keeping tabs on NYPD surveillance.

Supporters call it responsible disclosure to New Yorkers concerned about privacy. Critics say it would be like giving a road map to terrorists and criminals.

In an age when some worry about “Big Brother” watching, the NYPD has an ever-growing arsenal of surveillance tools.

Vans equipped with mobile x-ray units, license plate readers, even so-called “Stingray” devices that can track your cell phone are all a source of concern to privacy advocates.

“We need to know what surveillance tools they’ve acquired, how they’re using them, and what happens to all of that data,” Michael Price from the Brennan Center tells CBS2’s Tony Aiello.

Forcing that disclosure is the goal of a bill that’s made its way to the City Council, requiring the NYPD to spell out what and how surveillance technologies are in use.

“Civilians are in charge of the police force and we need to be able to understand what technologies are being employed in our name,” Councilman Dan Garodnick (D-4th) said.

As CBS2’s Aiello reported, the NYPD also has surveillance technologies we don’t know about, and they won’t talk about. So secret, the department says, the suppliers won’t even allow disclosure.

“Many of these technologies, because they’re only effective if bad people don’t know how they work and how to defeat it,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner Larry Byrne said. “They are given to us pursuant to very strict non-disclosure agreements.”

NYPD brass presented a united front against the City Council bill. Deputy Commissioner John Miller said the demands for disclosure “would create a one-stop shopping guide to understanding these tools and how to thwart them for criminal elements and terrorists across the nation and world.”

Bill sponsors say they want to get this right, and will work with the NYPD to craft a bill that balances public safety with the public’s right to know.

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