June 12, 2020 / 8:44 PM / 22 days ago

New York City oversight bill to force police to detail surveillance tools

June 12 (Reuters) - New York politicians are expected to vote next week to force the city’s police force to divulge the surveillance technology it uses, one of many reforms of law enforcement being considered across the United States.

City council members will vote on June 18 on a long-delayed oversight bill that would force the New York Police Department - the nation’s largest - to give details about its surveillance tools, the council’s speaker’s office said on Friday.

The Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act already has enough co-sponsors to win the two-thirds support needed to override an expected mayoral veto.

“New Yorkers deserve to know the type of surveillance that NYPD uses in communities and its impacts,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement.

Like other proposed police reforms, the POST Act has been in limbo for years. Backers said anger over the death of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis and its aftermath helped push the legislation forward.

Similar legislation exists in other cities, but politicians and privacy advocates said a surveillance audit for the NYPD was likely to have a particularly significant effect.

“It’s by far the biggest police force with by far the biggest budget,” council member Brad Lander, who backs the bill, told Reuters. He said it would empower citizens elsewhere “to go to their municipalities and ask, ‘Are you using this too?’”

The NYPD, which did not return messages seeking comment, has vehemently opposed the bill. In 2017, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said it would “require us to advertise sensitive technologies that criminals and terrorists do not fully understand.”

Lawyer Albert Fox Cahn, who directs the New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said allowing citizens to see how police watch them would help curb abusive surveillance - and abuses more generally.

“There’s a straight line through to this intrusive surveillance to unnecessary police stops to the kind of tragic violence we saw in Minneapolis,” Cahn said. (Reporting by Raphael Satter; additional reporting from Jack Stubbs in London Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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