Chris Gelardi


Hochul Wants More Police Surveillance. Legislators Want Boundaries.

Read the full piece in New York Focus

Earlier this month, more than a dozen New York state lawmakers and several watchdog organizations launched a years-in-the-making legislative campaign to rein in police surveillance. Attempting to catch up to what they describe as unchecked civil liberties violations by law enforcement, they announced plans to introduce 10 bills taking aim at a host of police surveillance tools, from undercover social media accounts to facial recognition to aerial drones.

“It’s long past time for New York to draw a line,” Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said at the campaign’s onset, calling out “some of New York’s leaders” who are “excited to play big brother.” That was partially a reference to one of the legislative push’s biggest hurdles: Governor Kathy Hochul, who has sought to funnel more and more state resources into police intelligence and surveillance.

As New York Focus has reported, Hochul slipped millions of dollars into last year’s state budget to boost the New York State Police’s intelligence and surveillance capabilities, as well as those of the state’s little-known network of police intelligence hubs — both of which use technology and practices in the campaign’s crosshairs. The governor doubled down on those efforts throughout the year, funneling additional millions into social media monitoring, license plate readers, drones, and more. And this month, as part of her State of the State address, she announced plans to boost police information-sharing and further expand the intelligence hubs. She’s cited gun violence and hate crimes as her main motivation.

“We’re watching you now, we know what you’re up to, and we’ll be coming after you,” Hochul said after a mass shooting in Buffalo in May.

The governor’s and legislators’ dueling priorities are setting up a showdown that could set the course for the future of police oversight in New York — and reverberate nationwide. Like most states, New York has almost no state-level privacy protections against prying government eyes. Some of the state laws currently acting as boundaries for police intelligence practices predate the internet.

“It’s a moving target,” said Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who will introduce a bill to restrict the use of government DNA databases. “We need action at the legislative and executive levels.”

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