City Council to grill NYPD on surveillance technology and transparency

After multiple deferrals, police officials are set to appear at an oversight hearing on the POST Act.

New York City Council members will hold a hearing to review the NYPD’s technology uses and policies.

New York City Council members will hold a hearing to review the NYPD’s technology uses and policies. Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Could the fourth time be the charm? It looks like the New York City Council will finally get a chance to question police officials about their compliance with the city’s surveillance technology transparency law.

After repeatedly citing scheduling conflicts that prompted the council to defer the hearing three times earlier this year, officials from the New York City Police Department are expected to testify at a hearing Friday on the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act. After all this time, what are lawmakers hoping to accomplish at the hearing? “If we accomplish the hearing, I will be pumped already,” joked City Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez.

The oversight hearing will be held jointly with Gutierrez’s Technology Committee and the Public Safety Committee, which is chaired by Council Member Kamillah Hanks. The POST Act, which passed along with a slate of other police reforms in the summer of 2020, requires the department to disclose the surveillance technologies that it uses and publish impact and use policies for those technologies.

While the department has been publishing those since 2021, lawmakers and advocates have raised concerns that the department isn’t actually complying with the intent of the law. As one example, rather than publishing an impact and use policy for each new tool it acquires – such as a four-legged robotic dog that can assist in hostage situations or a 400-pound droid-like security robot that roams a Times Square subway station – the department has mostly released use policies for umbrella categories like “situational awareness cameras” that include different kinds of tools under the same policy. In a November 2022 report, the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD wrote that this interpretation “is contrary to the intent of the POST Act.” The department, however, maintains that it is fully complying with the law.

In addition to considering a handful of bills that would clarify and add requirements to the POST Act, the hearing will offer lawmakers a chance to press the department on how it is complying with the law currently, and on the deployment of technologies that have raised privacy and security concerns for some New Yorkers and advocates. “It’s hard to invoke trust in folks when we’re saying, ‘Hey, the POST Act exists, the (NYPD) has to come and be transparent about surveillance and technology tools,’ and then they unleash a Digidog,” Gutiérrez said. “I can’t wait for them to go through that.”