10 Ways Local Police Are Spying on Your Community

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ACLU National
Published in
4 min readSep 12, 2016


The proliferation in local police departments’ use of surveillance technology, which in most places has occurred without any community input or control, presents significant threats to civil rights and civil liberties that disproportionately impact communities of color and low-income communities.

Here is a list of costly and invasive surveillance technologies that might be recording you, your family, and your neighbors right now:

1.) Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras

CCTV allows the police to monitor us any time we are in a public space, even if they have no reason for doing so. Despite proof that CCTV is ineffective in reducing crime, these cameras are widely deployed, especially in communities of color and low-income communities.

2.) Stingrays

The device mimics a cell phone communications tower, causing your cell phone to communicate with it. Once linked, the Stingray can track your location and intercept data from your phone, including your voice and typed communications. Used often without a warrant, these devices can sweep in the information of hundreds or thousands of phones at a time, while interfering with your cell phone’s signal.

3.) Electronic toll readers or E-Z Pass

Although the devices are sold as toll-payment devices, they are frequently used for non-toll purposes without the badge holder’s knowledge or permission. The data captured by electronic toll readers can be used to monitor traffic patterns and create a record of where you travel.

4.) Automatic license plate readers (ALPRs)

Mobile or fixed-location cameras that take photographs of license plates, digitize them, and enable the captured data to be stored, processed, and searched in real time or over the course of months or years. The data collected allows the government to track where you travel in in your car, including where you sleep at night.

5.) Surveillance enabled light bulbs

LED surveillance light bulbs are presented as energy efficient upgrades to incandescent light bulbs, but they can actually conceal tiny cameras and microphones that can stealthily monitor their surroundings and transmit their feeds back to a central monitoring station. If installed on streetlamps and put into widespread use, privacy would become as old-fashioned as the incandescent bulbs they are replacing.

6.) X-ray vans

The mobile technology uses x-ray radiation to see what no human eye can, including through clothing and car exteriors. Government purchasers of these vans have not disclosed exactly how they are using them, but it could be unconstitutional and a possible threat to public health to deploy them on public streets in non-emergencies without a warrant.

7.) Social media monitoring software

This software can be used to covertly monitor, collect, and analyze your public and private social media data from platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, mapping your private relationships and activities. It improperly affects scores of innocent people — disproportionately from communities of color — with the potential to discourage freedoms of speech, assembly, and association online.

8.) Biometric surveillance technology

Biometric technologies allow you to be identified and tracked using a physical trait, run against DMV, social network, and other databases. Technological limitations and biased engineering practices can lead to false-positives, especially amongst people of color, which results in innocent people unjustifiably drawing the attention of law enforcement.

9.) Hacking software and hardware

These tools allow the government to hack into to your personal laptop, cell phone, and other devices as well as your password-protected websites or accounts. They can be activated in person and remotely without your permission. Because these tools leverage vulnerabilities in commonly used software and services, they make the systems protecting your private information more vulnerable to criminals.

10.) Predictive policing software

Predictive policing software uses mathematical and analytical techniques to attempt to predict future criminal activity, offenders, and victims. Historically biased data is input into an algorithm of unknown accuracy, which produces biased results that will only continue the trend of over-policing communities of color and low-income communities.



ACLU National
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