Category Archives: Surveillance

Paper accepted to Indiana Law Journal!

My new paper, “Collateral Visibility: Police Body Cameras, Public Disclosure, and Privacy,” on body-worn camera adoption, privacy, and public access to BWC footage has been accepted by the Indiana Law Journal!  The draft (which is undergoing an update) is available on SSRN (http://ssrn.com/abstract=2740377). All comments, corrections, etc. are welcome.

The abstract follows:

Law enforcement use of body-worn cameras has recently become a subject of significant public and scholarly debate. This article presents the findings from an empirical examination of the legal and social implications of body-worn camera adoption by two police departments in Washington State. In particular, this study focuses on the public disclosure of body-worn camera footage under Washington State’s Public Records Act (PRA), provides an analysis of state privacy and access to information law, and presents empirical findings related to officer attitudes towards—and perceptions of—the impact of these laws on their work, their own personal privacy, and the privacy of the citizens they serve. The law in Washington State requires law enforcement agencies to disclose substantial amounts of footage, and options for withholding footage based on privacy grounds are very limited under the PRA and recent Washington State Supreme Court case law. Additionally, broad public records requests for body-worn camera footage have posed significant problems for civilian privacy. Police officers report strong concerns about public disclosure of their footage, largely because of the potential for such footage to impact civilian privacy interests, and officers also report high levels of disagreement with the current requirements to disclose most footage to any member of the public. However, officers are supportive of limited access policies that would allow individuals connected to an incident to obtain footage. This article concludes by making a normative argument for restricting public access to some body-worn camera footage on privacy grounds while still preserving adequate space for robust civilian oversight and police accountability.

My piece @ Slate Magazine: Body-Worn Cameras, Transparency, and the US Border Patrol

I’ve written a piece for Slate Magazine’s Future Tense section, entitled Body-Worn Cameras Alone Won’t Bring Transparency to the Border Patrol, where I argue that the US Customs and Border Protection agency’s historical lack of transparency suggests that without good policies, the cameras will become another tool for surveillance.  

Adopting body-worn cameras as part of a larger project to make the agency more transparent and accountable is potentially a step in the right direction. But without the implementation of proper policies for camera use and public disclosure of footage, it won’t do much to overcome the agency’s historical lack of transparency and its general resistance to releasing video footage to the public. Unless CBP commits to greater transparency and external oversight as part of its body-worn camera program, the cameras may become just another tool of government surveillance wielded by the state without adequate oversight.

Check out the whole piece here.

Paper accepted to Surveillance & Society!

A paper I co-authored with Ricardo Gomez and Veronica Guajardo, entitled “Sensors, Cameras, and the New ‘Normal’ in Clandestine Migration: How Undocumented Migrants Experience Surveillance at the U.S.-Mexico Border,” has just been accepted to Surveillance & Society. I’m really proud of this paper and the research we put into this project, which was funded by the University of Washington Royalty Research Fund. Get a pre-press PDF here.

The abstract is here:

This paper presents findings from an exploratory qualitative study of the experiences and perceptions of undocumented (irregular) migrants to the United States with various forms of surveillance in the borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico.  Based on fieldwork conducted primarily in a migrant shelter in Nogales, Mexico, we find that migrants generally have a fairly sophisticated understanding about U.S. Border Patrol surveillance and technology use and that they consciously engage in forms of resistance or avoidance.  Heightened levels of border surveillance may be deterring a minority of migrants from attempting immediate future crossings, but most interviewees were undeterred in their desire to enter the U.S., preferring to find ways to avoid government surveillance.  Furthermore, migrants exhibit a general lack of trust in the “promise” of technology to improve their circumstances and increase their safety during clandestine border-crossing—often due to fears that technology use makes them vulnerable to state surveillance, tracking, and arrest.

Presentation at the American Society of Criminology conference

I spent the last few days in Washington D.C. at the American Society of Criminology‘s annual conference, where I also presented some of my on-going police body-worn camera research.  I presented on Wednesday (title: Policing’s Third Eye: Body-Worn Camera Adoption by Two Police Departments in Washington State) during one of a few panels devoted to body camera research – there’s a lot going on in this space right now, and it was fun to hear about all the great research being done on body camera adoption!

In the News: I’m featured in an NPR story on ALPR Database Analysis

I am featured in a story from today’s All Things Considered on National Public Radio (NPR) on the topic of automated license plate reader (ALPR) data. I discuss some of my preliminary data analysis using a few databases received from the Seattle Police Department under state freedom of information law.

Questions Remain About How To Use Data From License Plate Scanners (link to transcript on NPR’s website)
By Martin Kaste
May 27, 2015

Seattle Police Dept ALPR Scans by Census Tract (Jan 9-Apr 6, 2013)

I’ve been busy analyzing a number of automated license plate recognition (ALPR) databases disclosed by the Seattle Police Department.  These databases were disclosed under state freedom of information (FOI) law, and I am currently mapping scans of license plates, visualizing scanning patterns, and I hope to publish some additional findings in the near future, in the meantime, here’s a sneak peak at the number of scans by 2010 Census Tract, darker colors mean more scans.  Hover your mouse over any tract to see the number of scans that occurred within its boundaries.  The database covers scans by the SPD’s PIPs system, which is mounted on Patrol Vehicles that roam the city scanning plates.  See the Viz here.

Cross-Post: Metadata Surveillance, Secrecy, and Political Liberty (Part Two)

(Image: NSA slide leaked by Edward Snowden describing the PRISM surveillance program)
(Image: NSA slide leaked by Edward Snowden describing the PRISM surveillance program)

My second post in a two-part series on metadata surveillance and liberty has been posted to the Digital Media Law Project’s blog (DMLP Blog).

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a widely ratified international human rights treaty, includes provisions that relate to liberal and republican conceptions of freedom that are relevant to current discussions about mass government surveillance and communications intelligence gathering. Article 17 of the ICCPR states that, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.”  Article 18 guarantees the freedoms of thought, conscience, and religion, and Article 19 guarantees the “right to hold opinions without interference” and the “right to freedom of expression.”  The European Convention on Human Rights, an important regional – rather than truly international – treaty, also provides similar protections, as do the constitutions and charters of many other democratic countries. The relevance of these treaties and philosophical accounts of freedom are tied directly to all three of the questions posed in my first post in this series but, I think, they are most interesting when applied to the third question: what transparency and oversight mechanisms ought to govern the collection of communications information by governmental intelligence agencies?

… [continue reading at the DMLP blog]

Cross-Post: Metadata Surveillance, Secrecy, and Political Liberty (Part One)

I have just written a new post for the Digital Media Law Project’s blog about some of the implications of government metadata surveillance.  For the full post, which was posted today, go to the DMLP Blog.

As much of the world is now undoubtedly aware, the National Security Administration (NSA), and many other signals intelligence agencies around the world, have been conducting sophisticated electronic surveillance for quite some time. Many might have expected that such extensive surveillance was occurring, both domestically and globally, prior to Edward Snowden’s release of classified information in June 2013.  Indeed, we’ve known about the existence of government driven metadata surveillance and international intelligence cooperation and data-sharing for years.  The UKUSA Agreement, which links intelligence agencies in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, was declassified by the NSA in 2011, but its existence was reported much earlier.  

What we haven’t known, perhaps, are some of the specifics… [continue reading at the DMLP blog]