Suspected of spying on Black Lives Matter activists, NYPD ordered to release surveillance data
In today’s news that no one is shocked by, the New York City Police Department may have spied on Black Lives Matter protesters and interfered with their ability to use their cellphones. A judge has now ruled that the NYPD must disclose information about its surveillance tactics.
According to The Root, complaints about the NYPD date back to 2014, when protesters affiliated with the Movement for Black Lives began to notice that their cellphones weren’t working properly.
Cellphones suddenly switching off or losing reception, messaging apps going haywire—[protesters] began to suspect the police were monitoring their telephones with Stingrays, devices that mimic cell towers and intercept communications.
Subsequently, protesters partnered with the New York Civil Liberties Union to file a public records request to find out more about the NYPD’s surveillance tactics. The department refused to comply, citing the “Glomar response,” a precedent that cites national security concerns to justify withholding information. And now it is being compelled to do so by a judge. In her ruling, Justice Arlene Bluth stated that spying on protesters and interfering with their cell service is a violation of the law, and that the Glomar response is not a reasonable justification for surveilling protesters.
Not exactly surprising information, but disturbing nonetheless. Law enforcement has always played a role in curbing freedom of speech when the speech is deemed controversial and subversive, and especially when it comes from black bodies. This is exactly why there is such distrust of police, and of law enforcement in general, among black people. These practices are built on a history of racism, white supremacy, and oppression. For decades, law enforcement has spied on black activists in the name of safety and national security. Black Lives Matter is just the newest group for them to harass and spy on. As we approach the holiday commemorating Martin Luther King, let us remember that federal law enforcement spied on him and his wife as well.
Since King’s time, the police have upped their arsenal quite a bit. In fact, the NYPD has a “sophisticated arsenal of surveillance technology [that] extends beyond cellphone surveillance devices to license plate readers, facial recognition software and drones.” It could be using that equipment to fight crime, terrorism, and violence. But instead it is choosing to use it for the racist and fundamentally un-American purpose of spying on people who seek equal treatment under the law. It’s illegal and unethical, and it’s also a waste of time. The NYPD should be spying on the thief, liar, and Russian agent who sometimes lives in Trump Tower instead.