Cities and counties in California have spent $65 million in the past decade on surveillance technology like drones, cellular “stingray” simulators and license plate readers for law enforcement agencies – all with little to no public oversight, according to an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union of California.
The technologies were paid for with federally funded grants and private donations, including a $200,000 donation from Target Corp. The equipment went to 58 California counties and 60 of the Golden State's largest cities.
Eleven areas used the “stingray” devices to track cellphone information and identify information: Alameda County, Los Angeles County, Sacramento County, San Bernardino County, San Diego County, San Francisco County and the cities of Fremont, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and San Jose. According to the ACLU, none of those counties or cities held much public debate about using the technologies and haven't published anything explaining how they are used.
“Law enforcement agencies shouldn't make decisions about whether or not to use surveillance technologies in secret. The public has a right to know how they're being policed. High-tech surveillance tools can too easily be abused when the public is kept in the dark, and police transparency is key to maintaining the public's trust," Peter Bibring, police practices director for the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement.
California is by no means alone in recently coming under scrutiny for all its surveillance techniques: New York City installed "beacons" in about 500 phone booths; Chicago installed similar technology inside its "L" train stations; five Virginia cities were found to have collected, stored and shared massive amounts of information through a data-sharing network.
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