NYC Council greenlights law requiring NYPD be transparent about surveillance tech

The bill calls for allowing New Yorkers an opportunity to look into the surveillance tactics and gear used by the city's police force.

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In a move that is bound to please privacy advocates and anyone remotely concerned about the safety of everyday people in New York City, the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act passed on Thursday, Reuters reported.

With a vote of 44-6, the New York City Council passed the bill, which will require the city's law enforcement to be transparent about its surveillance technology. In New York City, where the New York Police Department has elicited legitimate criticism for sting operations and surveilling racial and religious minorities for years now, the POST Act could offer some relief and even protection to vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Long overdue — It's a particularly significant development as the POST Act was essentially suspended in limbo but only gained traction after the George Floyd protests sparked across the United States. Its first hearing took place on June 14, 2017, while its second hearing occurred on December 18, 2019. So it looks like the local government is beginning to listen. Finally.

What the bill requires — The technologies that the NYPD would have to be transparent about include drone craft, cell site simulators used to intercept calls, X-ray vans, TerraHawk towers, ShotSpotter microphones, and the Domain Awareness System supported by Microsoft. The bill requires the NYPD to disclose the basic information about these technologies it uses in 180 days.

This is where the New York public chimes in, per the POST Act: "Upon publication of the draft surveillance impact and use policy, the public shall have a period of time to submit comments. The commissioner of the department shall consider the comments and provide the final version of the surveillance impact and use policy to the Council, the Mayor and post to the Department’s website."

POST Act could help the nation — According to Reuters, New York City Council member Vanessa Gibson stated, "This is an opportunity for the city and New Yorkers to understand the NYPD is using, how it's using it, and who it's using it on." If the NYPD follows the bill in the genuine sense of the word and allows the public to observe its tactics and gear, it could potentially open a door to understanding between communities and law enforcement. This is a desperately needed harmony given the department's record of appalling abuse.

The NYPD is, after all, the biggest police force in the United States of America. If it truly wants the public's respect and support — as it often complains about — this is a chance to do some good. This might be too optimistic but it could even convey a message of hope and improvement to those in other parts of the country.