Police have their sights set on every surveillance camera in every business, on every porch, in all the cities and counties of the country. Grocery store trips, walks down the street, and otherwise minding your own business when outside your home could soon come under the ever-present eye of the government. In a quiet but rapid expansion of law enforcement surveillance, U.S. cities are buying and promoting products from Georgia-based company Fusus in order to access on-demand, live video from public and private camera networks.
The company sells police a cloud-based platform for creating real-time crime centers and a streamlined way for officers to interface with their various surveillance streams, including predictive policing, gunshot detection, license plate readers, and drones. For the public, Fusus also sells hardware that can be added to private cameras and convert privately-owned video into instantly-accessible parts of the police surveillance network. In Atlanta, Memphis, Orlando, and dozens of other locations, police officers have been asking the public to buy into a Fusus-fueled surveillance system, at times sounding like eager pitchmen trying to convince people and businesses to trade away privacy for a false sense of security.
The model expands police access to personal information collected by private cameras that would otherwise require warrants and community conversation. Because these cameras are privately owned, police can enjoy their use without having to create and follow records retention and deletion policies.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been collecting and reviewing documents about cities’ uses of Fusus, which counts nearly 150 jurisdictions as customers. You can access these records on DocumentCloud. EFF also shared these documents with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which published its report today.
Police surveillance threatens constitutionally protected activities. It gives police the ability to surreptitiously spy on and track people of no real or alleged criminal concern. It creates caches of sensitive, personal information that can be retained indefinitely. Fusus is compounding these issues by expanding police access to surveillance cameras and integrating the cameras with a number of other surveillance services. This increases the ways police are able to record, track, and marginalize communities.
Deciding whether to expand police video surveillance to every corner of our lives should never happen without strong community conversation, transparency, and real respect for procurement rules and the public’s liberty. Yet cities’ responses to public records requests reveal a lack of clear guidance on when live access can be utilized, with very few locations able to provide policies regarding appropriate and specific police use of the system.
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