NYPD secretly spent $159 million on surveillance tech

Documents show the department paid millions for facial recognition, vans equipped with x-ray machines and more.

Tim Drivas Photography via Getty Images

The New York City Police Department has spent over $159 million on surveillance systems and maintenance since 2007 without public oversight, according to newly released documents. The Legal Aid Society (LAS) and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) obtained the documents from the NYPD, which include contracts with vendors. They show that the NYPD has spent millions on facial recognition, predictive policing tech and other surveillance systems.

The NYPD made the purchases through a Special Expenses Fund. It didn't need to gain the approval of the NYC Council or other city officials before signing the contracts, as Wired reports.

STOP and other privacy groups lobbied for the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, which passed last year and requires the NYPD to disclose details about its public surveillance infrastructure. The Special Expenses Fund was shut down after the legislation passed. LAS and STOP threatened legal action if the NYPD didn't detail its surveillance practices.

Among the documents are contracts for Palantir, American Science and Engineering (which provides x-ray vans that can detect weapons in vehicles 1,500 feet away) and Idemia Solutions, which provides biometric services such as facial recognition.

The NYPD also signed a contract with KeyW Corporation for Stingray cell tower simulators. Stingrays, also known as international mobile subscriber identity catchers, spoof cell towers to lure mobile phones into connecting to them. The devices can then collect data sent by a phone, such as its location. The NYPD previously admitted it used Stingrays on more than a thousand occasions between 2008 and 2015.

“For years, the NYPD has hidden its surveillance slush fund from the public, not to protect us, but to protect its bottom line,” STOP executive director Albert Fox Cahn said in a statement. “These technologies are expensive, invasive, and just don’t work. But the NYPD isn’t just wasting millions on unproven technologies, it’s putting Black and Brown communities at risk. High tech errors are often just the first step to false arrest, wrongful imprisonment, and being torn away from your family because of a faulty algorithm.”

“No police department or federal agency has gone to the level of depth and transparency on law enforcement tools used in the field that the NYPD did in its POST Act disclosures," an NYPD spokesperson told Wired in a statement.