NYCLU: Judge Rebuffs Bid to Learn Locations of NYPD Cameras

Mark Hamblett, Judge Rebuffs Bid to Learn Locations of NYPD Cameras, N.Y.L. J., Mar. 14, 2011, at 1.

The Department of Homeland Security does not have to reveal the locations of surveillance cameras installed as part of the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, according to a federal judge.

Southern District Judge John G. Koeltl last week granted partial summary judgment for the government in a case brought under the Freedom of Information Act by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The NYCLU has already obtained thousands of documents in New York Civil Liberties Union v. Department of Homeland Security, 09 Civ. 5325, as it tries to learn more about the security initiative by the New York City Police Department, which received a grant for the program from Homeland Security.

The issue before Judge Koeltl was redacted portions of 18 documents on the initiative that Homeland Security claimed were exempted from disclosure under the information act, 5 U.S.C. §552.

The NYCLU wanted information on the location of cameras and license plate readers, the type of equipment being used, the timeline for implementing the security initiative, as well as the buildings and other structures to be protected.

The group also wanted to see funding requests, Homeland Security grant and project databases, an implementation plan, and e-mails between the federal agency and the NYPD.

Homeland Security argued before Judge Koeltl in New York Civil Liberties Union v. Department of Homeland Security, 09 Civ. 5325, that almost all of the material sought was covered by Exemption 7(E) of the information act.

The exemption applies to “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes” where production “would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.”

The NYCLU argued that there was little risk of circumvention of the law because much of the information was already known and there had been public reporting about the techniques.

But Judge Koeltl said the group failed to meet its burden of showing that the information publicly known is identical to the information it sought as the NYCLU was looking for far more specifics.

… Christopher Dunn represented the NYCLU along with Matthew Faiella and Arthur Eisenberg. Mr. Dunn said in an interview that the two sides are still litigating over production of documents on the security initiative, but his group has nonetheless learned some information about the scope of the plan, which employs more than 1,000 cameras and is being expanded into midtown Manhattan.

“This is not focused on illegal activity,” Mr. Dunn said. “The system is going to be sweeping into a police database every person and vehicle in lower Manhattan and midtown and we think that presents enormous privacy implications.”

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  1. Danger,

    NYCLU: NYCLU Sues NYPD for Information on Massive Surveillance Plan (9/8/2008)

    The plan, called the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, would establish a network of 3,000 public and private surveillance cameras to monitor and track vehicles and pedestrians south of Canal Street. The system would allow the Department to maintain a database on the movement and whereabouts of millions of law-abiding New Yorkers.

    Modeled after London’s often criticized Ring of Steel surveillance network, the system is expected to cost about $100 million. The NYPD developed the surveillance plan without seeking any public input…. [N]ews reports disclosed a further plan (“Operation Sentinel”) to photograph and track every vehicle entering Manhattan and then keep data on each vehicle in a police database.

  2. Danger,

    New York Times: City Police Spied Broadly Before G.O.P. Convention (3/25/2007)

    For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews.

    In hundreds of reports stamped “N.Y.P.D. Secret,” the Intelligence Division chronicled the views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking the law, the records show.

    These included members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies. Three New York City elected officials were cited in the reports.

    In at least some cases, intelligence on what appeared to be lawful activity was shared with police departments in other cities.

    … Under a United States Supreme Court ruling, undercover surveillance of political groups is generally legal, but the police in New York — like those in many other big cities — have operated under special limits as a result of class-action lawsuits filed over police monitoring of civil rights and antiwar groups during the 1960s. The limits in New York are known as the Handschu guidelines, after the lead plaintiff, Barbara Handschu.

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