Last week, the New York Police Department was hit with a court order to release information related to cell phone and social media surveillance of Black Lives Matters protesters.
The decision comes in response to a New York Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Law request that NYPD originally shot down by claiming exemption under the “Glomar” doctrine, which allows government agencies to refuse to respond to certain records requests, typically those related to issues of national security. A Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled that Glomar didn’t apply to protest activity in this case, and that the department had to respond with details about whether social media data was mined or cell phone communications interfered with.
This marks the second time in as many months that NYPD has clashed with NYCLU over surveillance technology. In December, when NYPD unveiled a fleet of drones to be used for hostage and search and rescue operations, the NYCLU immediately raised concerns about police drones being used for other purposes, including monitoring of political activity.
If this ruling is any indicator, the increasingly tech-savvy NYPD will have to contend with heightened public awareness and wariness of how personal data is used, viewed and surveilled – by private companies and public agencies alike. As it deploys its new fleet of drones, the NYPD shouldn’t depend on protections like Glomar to exempt it from the likely influx of information requests from privacy advocates.
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