Secret Police Databases Fuel Quiet Epidemic of Cops Becoming Stalkers
October 10, 2016 | Derrick Broze
(ANTIMEDIA) Thanks to Edward Snowden, William Binney, and Thomas Drake, most Americans are now aware that we currently live in a Surveillance State, a panopticon control grid with the eyes and ears of Big Brother constantly focused on the domestic population. An abundance of propaganda and fear porn keep the people in a state of disharmony and thus, easily manipulated and controlled. This has created a situation where many people actually support surveillance and even call for a complete abandonment of privacy.
Regardless of your stance on the Surveillance State, it has become increasingly clear that surveillance tools are being abused and misused by law enforcement at all levels of government. A recent investigation by the Associated Press details an example of police officers abusing databases meant for law enforcement purposes by using them for their own private investigations. The AP filed open records requests with departments from 50 states and close to three dozen of the largest police departments in the U.S. The requests sought information related to state and local databases, as well as the FBI’s National Crime and Information Center database. Some of the agencies said they had no records to provide while others refused to disclose the information.
“Criminal-history and driver databases give officers critical information about people they encounter on the job. But the AP’s review shows how those systems also can be exploited by officers who, motivated by romantic quarrels, personal conflicts or voyeuristic curiosity, sidestep policies and sometimes the law by snooping. In the most egregious cases, officers have used information to stalk or harass, or have tampered with or sold records they obtained.
“No single agency tracks how often the abuse happens nationwide, and record-keeping inconsistencies make it impossible to know how many violations occur.”
Despite the lack of record keeping by law enforcement, the AP reviewed records from state and city law enforcement departments and found that more than 325 law enforcement officers and employees who misused the system had been fired, suspended, or resigned between 2013 and 2015. In more than 250 other instances, the officers were reprimanded or received counseling.
“In many other cases, it wasn’t clear from the records if punishment was given at all,” the AP notes. Since the AP only had access to a small portion of records from a tiny fraction of law enforcement in the United States, it is likely that the number of violations is much higher.
A few examples of how these databases can be abused include an Ohio officer who plead guilty to stalking an ex-girlfriend via the database; a Michigan officer who looked up home addresses of women he found attractive; and two Miami-Dade officers who ran checks on a journalist who was investigating the department.
“The unauthorized searches demonstrate how even old-fashioned policing tools are ripe for abuse, at a time when privacy concerns about law enforcement have focused mostly on more modern electronic technologies,” the AP writes. “And incomplete, inconsistent tracking of the problem frustrates efforts to document its pervasiveness.”
Of course, it’s not only “old-fashioned” policing tools that are being abused. Police departments have access to a wide array of spying tools. Everything from wiretaps to stingray cell phone surveillance is within reach of law enforcement. In late September it was reported that California police officers have been quietly purchasing and using social media monitoring tools. The American Civil Liberties Union of California filed open records requests with 63 police departments, sheriffs, and district attorneys across California and found that at least 20 agencies across California are in possession of social media monitoring tools.
“We found no evidence in the documents of any public notice, debate, community input, or lawmaker vote about use of this invasive surveillance,” the ACLU writes. “And no agency produced a use policy that would limit how the tools were used and help protect civil rights and civil liberties.”
The ACLU reported that tools like MediaSonar, X1 Social Discovery, and Geofeedia “have been marketed in ways to target protesters.” The records show that Geofeedia’s marketing materials refer to unions and activist groups as “overt threats” and suggest the product can be used in ways that target activists of color. At least 13 California law enforcement agencies have used or acquired Geofeedia.
With little to no accountability on these tools, it is likely police misuse will continue. How can we fight back against spying mechanisms we have no control over? There may not be one simple, “one size fits all” solution, but more than likely the answers lie in empowering ourselves and uniting in our communities. Only when we stand together to oppose invasions of privacy, life, and liberty will we successfully beat back and evolve past institutions that do not serve the interests of the people.
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