How to Spot Police Surveillance Tools
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From the popular mechanics
In the past three weeks, hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country have gathered to protest police violence and racial injustice after George Floyd's death. However, keep in mind the following: if you take part in a protest, there is a good chance that the police in your city know - and will - that you are there.
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From body cameras to simulators for cell locations to license plate readers, surveillance tools for social media and drones, the police keep an eye on the ground, the street, the subways, the Internet and practically every conceivable protest point.
Over the past two decades, police departments around the company have become a hot target for commercial technology companies. Companies like Amazon and Axon market products to police agencies that promise to make their work easier, better, and more effective. However, this technology often leads to poor policing, says Dave Maass, senior investigator at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
"The police force makes less contact, less footwork and less investigation," Maass told Popular Mechanics. "Instead, they rely on untested technologies that can lead to more abuse and corruption. Not to mention that it's a waste of taxpayers' money."
Commercial companies offer setbacks to law enforcement agencies that sometimes serve as business development drivers to increase customer purchases or usage. For example, Amazon has enrolled law enforcement agencies to promote the deployment of their ring cameras in U.S. communities.
Amazon also distributed many free ring units to police authorities at police conferences. According to Maass, officers received five free rings for participating in a party; That's about $ 1,000 in free products. Amazon also gave the police free devices for 20 people each, who they believed were using the Ring app. These marketing tactics may have led to over-investment in, an obvious preference for, or unnecessary introduction of surveillance marketing tools.
It is largely unclear how much police departments spend on surveillance technology. They don't always report what they use, how much it costs, and how it is implemented. And although police authorities claim that this confidentiality is required due to copyright infringement and other business secret laws, it can compromise your privacy.
What does the police use to monitor protests?
The police have a variety of tools to monitor who is taking part in a protest, how they are moving, and who must be held accountable if something goes wrong.
Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs)
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How it works: These computer-controlled camera systems record license plates with time and location stamps. This data, which includes a photo of the car and the driver (if it is moving), is stored in a central database. The information can be used to track those who have attended, parked nearby, or left an event like a protest.
How to recognize them: ALPRs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They generally look like chunky boxes attached to street lights, street poles, mobile units, and trailers.
How to protect yourself: If you live in a state where you don't need a front license plate, remove it. And if you have the opportunity, don't drive your personal car to protest. Instead, consider walking or using public transportation.
Cameras worn on the body
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How they work: Police officers wear these cameras on their bodies to record events and document the use of violence. The cameras can also record and document people in any situation in which a police officer is present. When used in bulk and with facial recognition software, this can affect the rights of the first and fourth changes. In addition, early research shows that body cameras make the use of violence largely ineffective.
How to recognize them: You can generally look for a box-shaped device worn on a policeman's chest. However, police officers can hide them under their vests, sometimes concealed, in a "buttonhole" on their shirts.
How to protect yourself: The best way to avoid being captured by a body-worn camera is to stay out of the line of sight of police officers. If you are near an official, make sure that you have no visible identifiers. Wear a mask and hat to block the camera's ability to identify you. You can also use body cameras to defend yourself if an officer takes excessive measures or otherwise behaves inappropriately.
Cell site simulators (IMSI catchers, stingrays or dirt boxes)
Photo credit: Seth Anderson / CC BY
Here's how they work: These tools pretend to be legitimate cell phone towers and make cell phones connect to them. As soon as the connection is established, they can identify the IDs of international mobile subscribers and determine who took part in a protest or not. The devices collect metadata and content from telephone calls, personal data and data usage and are used in at least 24 countries.
How to recognize them: The SITCH project has open source software with which simulators for cell locations can be recognized. WiGle.net can help to show where there are verified cell towers. Correlating the two data sources could help uncover when to use cell site simulators. And SeaGlass is a hardware project from the University of Washington that can be used to identify IMSI catchers.
How to protect yourself: If you don't want to build a device to identify stringrays along and around a protest, simply put your phone in airplane mode.
Photo credit: Joe Amon - Getty Images
How it works: Drones can have high-resolution live feed video cameras, thermal infrared video cameras, heat sensors, automatic license plate readers and radar with which groups can be tracked, monitored and monitored. They can also include cell phone interception technology and back-end software tools such as license plate readers, face recognition, and GPS trackers.
How to recognize them: The size of the drones varies from tiny UAVs to large military drones. Check it out in general and you may be able to spot them. However, do you know that media and activists also use drones to report and track police actions during protests.
How to protect yourself: If you want to determine whether drones are used, you can use acoustic sensors, high-frequency analyzers and optical sensors. But that's probably not an option for most people. In this case, use the same techniques to avoid face detection or FLIR technology that we recommend in other sections.
Facial recognition software
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How it works: This software can be used in conjunction with any camera to identify people in photos, videos and real life. It can also be used in many police stations during the booking and testing process.
How to recognize it: There may be facial recognition software installed on every camera you encounter during a protest. It is better to assume that this is the case than to assume that it is not.
How to protect yourself: Use this interactive map to find out if your local police are using facial recognition software. To avoid being spotted during a protest, cover your face with a mask and wear a hat with a brim.
Future-oriented infrared cameras (FLIR)
Credit: DAVID MCNEW - Getty Images
How It Works: These cameras can register a person's body temperature and help locate people when conditions allow, so that they are not seen otherwise.
How to recognize them: FLIRs are hand-held or mounted on a car, rifle or helmet and can also be used with drones or UAVs. They can often be very difficult to see.
How to protect yourself: Hide behind a source that blocks heat signatures and minimizes exposure of your skin. Wearing long sleeves can reduce your visibility by up to 15 percent. In addition, the best time of day to be outside is sunrise and sunset when thermal imaging is less effective.
Mobile surveillance towers (MSTs)
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How it works: These mobile tower units are often equipped with ALPR technology, loudspeakers, lights and video cameras and are used to monitor events from a bird's eye view.
How to recognize them: These are easy to recognize because they are large, police-occupied towers in public spaces.
How to protect yourself: The major threats from MSTs are video and FLIR capture. In these sections, you will learn how best to avoid detection.
Social media monitoring
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How it works: The police use hashtags, public and private accounts, digital message boards and standard social platforms to monitor demonstrators at an event. This can be done by actual people or algorithms that monitor and manage data.
Here's how to recognize it: Check this document to determine if you are speaking to a bot, and otherwise assume that all publicly shared social information about a hashtag used to support demonstrators is also for Police support can be used.
How to protect yourself: Pay attention to whether you are talking to a bot or not, determine whether you want to privatize or anonymize your online presence, and take the appropriate steps. You may also want to consider posting protests on social media only after you leave. This protects your privacy and the privacy of others.
So you stay safe before, during and after a protest
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Police surveillance technology can be scary and prevent you from participating in a protest. However, before you give up your democratic duty and constitutional right to rally and activate for change, you can take additional measures to protect yourself.
Before the protest
Consult the Self Defense Guide to Monitoring the EFF.
Enable full encryption on your mobile devices to ensure that your data cannot be accessed if it gets into the hands of the police.
Remove the fingerprint lock and the FaceID.
Use a fully encrypted social messaging service instead of text messages.
Back up your data if your phone is confiscated.
Dress for evasiveness or anonymity: cover up tattoos, wear incomprehensible clothing and wear a mask. (You should do this anyway at the age of COVID-19, but it also helps reduce the likelihood that you'll be identified by FLIR, security cameras, or other means.)
Make alternative transportation plans. ALPRs are most likely tracking your car and can identify you during a protest. However, you are also recorded on public transport, depending on which payment method you use.
Know the phone number of the legal representative in your area.
During the protest
Put your phone in airplane mode. This reduces the likelihood of connecting to a cellular simulator or being tracked in some other way.
Don't unlock your phone when you don't have to. An unlocked phone is a fair game for police officers.
Scrub the metadata from your photos to reduce the likelihood that they are incriminating evidence.
Protect your community. Pay attention to where you post photos and who is on those photos.
You don't have to give your password or hand over a cell phone to anyone. Ask if you are detained. If the answer is no, you can go away.
What to do if you are arrested during a protest?
Call an attorney. If you don't have a number for one, ask other protesters. "Remember to stay silent," Henna Kahn, a lawyer in the criminal defense practice of the Harlem Neighborhood Defense Service, told Popular Mechanics. "And don't agree to a search on your phone."
Give your phone to a friend instead of taking it to the district office. This reduces the risk that the police can use it against you.
Refuse to unlock your device when prompted. You don't have to unlock your phone, you should ask a lawyer to be there.
The police can use your phone as evidence of detention if they believe there is evidence of a crime on the phone. Otherwise, your phone may be provided with a voucher to ensure security. Assuming the latter is the case, you can get your phone back when it is released. Provided that the former you will only get your phone back at the end of the criminal proceedings.
"People have a first right to change to protest," Khan says. "It is worrying that the government is doing this level of surveillance. It is more important than ever that people know their rights."
Photo credit: JACK GUEZ - Getty Images
So the police have your data. What now?
"I am concerned about the transparency - or lack of - monitoring and how data is used and regulated more than the types of technology," Andrea Little Limbago, vice president of research at Interos, told Popular Mechanics.
Technology is just the collection method, and it's about thinking about what happens to the data after it is acquired. For example, data currently collected by ALPRs and other sources is often sold to third parties who then resell that data to insurers, banks, and credit monitors. Vigilant Solutions and ELSAG are the largest ALPR providers of this information, and there is little you can do to request the removal of your information.
Although public protest against data usage and facial recognition software has made some progress, this may not be the right approach. IBM, Microsoft and Amazon recently agreed to stop (or temporarily stop) selling their products to law enforcement agencies.
"What seems to be missing in this conversation is that the technology exists and is being developed," says Limbago. "And while American multinational corporations appear to be withdrawing from this research, techno-authoritarian states will continue to refine their surveillance status, and companies like Clearview AI will continue to develop face recognition tools for the police, with much less oversight or media control. ”This is a dangerous area.
What we need are not less qualified companies that develop software, but more public commitment to the rules that determine the technologies used in our society. Police officers are city employees. Cities are reflections of our society. The public should determine what police officers use - and do not use - to monitor them.
Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) passes CCOPS laws that ensure that residents can decide whether and how surveillance technology is used and through a process that maximizes the impact of the public on those decisions. According to the CCOPS laws, the public not only needs to be informed about technology, but is also actively pushing the police authorities to defend the interest in defending the purchase and introduction of new technologies.
By participating in and promoting this legislation, demonstrators and citizens can change the dialogue. We shouldn't have to avoid the police discovery to protest unless we do something wrong. With more transparency, legislation and activism to create accountability and transparency, this article would not even have to exist.
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