LAPD surveillance tactics violate citizens’ privacy rights

Police departments use spy gear and surveillance tactics to collect data.

Justin Yun, Writer

While everyone was concerned about the National Security Agency and the ominous growth of the national security state, law enforcement agencies nationwide obtained and used surveillance equipment and tactics to accumulate information and data about the communities they are supposed to serve. The Los Angeles Police Department continues to serve as the poster child for the surveillance and intelligence dragnet. Citizens must stop police departments such as the LAPD and the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department from using surveillance equipment and tactics to spy on the people they serve.

A Shadowy Complex

Welcome to the Surveillance-Industrial Complex. This is one shadowy complex Eisenhower — or for that matter, any president — will never talk about. Most Americans are unaware about it and most information about it is deliberately redacted from the public. It is a complex world where surveillance is privatized and police departments such as the LAPD use Stingray cellphone surveillance equipment and construct sophisticated “fusion centers” to combat terrorism. Surveillance and the significance of data-mining and information exploded since the inception of the War on Terror, but the marriage between policing and surveillance operations originates to the 19th century.

Police departments in the late 1800s and early 1900s formed “Red Squads” to target “subversives” and “agitators” after the Haymarket bombing of 1886. In a book titled “Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Police Repression in Urban America,” Frank J. Donner states, “The bomb resulted in the establishment of the first sustained American police intelligence operation aimed at leftist groups.” Think of the infamous Palmer Raids. This is the beginning of the first Red Scare. Surveillance of “subversives” expanded under the watchful eye of J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover is well known for directing COINTELPRO — a program created to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” agitators like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cellular Tower Impersonation

A 2013 article by LA Weekly reports how the LAPD used the Stingray cellphone surveillance equipment “21 times in a four-month period during 2012, apparently without the courts’ knowledge that the technology probes the lives of non-suspects who happen to be in the same neighborhood as suspected terrorists.” An article by The Intercept notes how the Stingray device can impersonate cellular towers to spy on citizens. Another article by Ars Technica shows how the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department has used the device over 300 times without a warrant.

The Intercept has also obtained “a confidential, 120-page catalogue of spy equipment, originating from British defense firm Cobham and circulated to U.S. law enforcement, [that] touts gear that can intercept wireless calls and text messages, locate people via their mobile phones and jam cellular communications in a particular area.” Cobham is one of several companies known to sell IMSI-catchers to authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Knowledge of the Surveillance-Industrial complex should not stoke fear or paranoia. What the LAPD and many police departments are doing is constitutionally questionable and harmful, but we are not living in a dystopian surveillance society described in books like “1984” by George Orwell. The best thing citizens can do at the moment is to expose the surveillance dragnet being used in our communities.

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