Tag Archives: surveillance

Transparency Group Sues FBI for Documents on Previously Unknown Cyber-Enabled Surveillance Platform Named ‘Gravestone’

Transparency Group Sues FBI for Documents on Previously Unknown Cyber-Enabled Surveillance Platform Named ‘Gravestone’

Washington, DC — On Thursday, December 21, 2017, Property of the People filed a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the Bureau’s failure to comply with the group’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on the FBI’s cyber-enabled surveillance platform named “Gravestone”.

Very little is publicly known about Gravestone. In late 2016, Property of the People located information online identified by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as “metadata” about a previously unknown FBI surveillance platform named Gravestone. The metadata was posted on the DOJ’s website data.gov [screencaptures 1, 2].

The metadata and associated information on the DOJ site revealed, “Gravestone is a system consisting of an IP based camera, routers, firewalls, and a workstation to review surveillance video. The system provides Video Surveillance data to FBI field offices and is used by case agents.”

The DOJ shortly thereafter deleted the Gravestone entry from data.gov. This deletion appears to have part of a broader DOJ data.gov purge of publicly available information about FBI systems. While it is unclear precisely when the DOJ deleted the Gravestone information, the deletion appears to have occurred sometime between December 9, 2016 and January 24, 2017.

In March 2017, Property of the People submitted five Freedom of Information Act requests to the FBI for records on Gravestone. The FBI failed to comply with the organization’s requests within the statutorily-permitted 20-working day deadline, and therefore the FBI is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Consequently, earlier today, the group filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI to compel compliance with its FOIA requests.

Among other things, the transparency organization’s five FOIA requests seek FBI documents on Gravestone-related Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA), instructional and training materials, acquisition and maintenance records, and security incidents and misuse.

Under the E-Government Act of 2002, federal agencies are generally required to conduct Privacy Impact Assessments for all systems that collect personally identifiable information, and make these publicly available online. While it is unknown whether the DOJ and FBI consider Gravestone to be a National Security System, the DOJ’s own guidelines mandate that Privacy Impact Assessments be completed for all systems, including National Security Systems. Not only has the DOJ now purged all information about Gravestone from its website, but the FBI and DOJ have failed to make public any Privacy Impact Assessment for the FBI’s Gravestone system.

According to Property of the People Co-Founder, Ryan Shapiro:

“The FBI has a long, dark history of utilizing new surveillance technologies to facilitate violations of Americans’ civil liberties and privacy. In the interest of democracy and transparency, the public requires access to documents about this cyber-enabled FBI surveillance platform.”

Shapiro continues:

“The FBI has failed to make public, and possibly even to conduct, the legally mandated Privacy Impact Assessment for its Gravestone surveillance system, and also failed to comply with our Freedom of Information Act requests for documents about Gravestone. True to form, the FBI appears intent on conducting surveillance with abandon on Americans while simultaneously refusing to comply with even the most basic requirements of transparency about this surveillance.”

About Property of the People

Property of the People is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transparency organization dedicated to governmental transparency in the service of democracy. The organization was co-founded by Ryan Shapiro, Jeffrey Light, and Sarahjane Blum. The organization’s motto is, “The records of government are the property of the people. It’s time we reclaim them.” Property of the People is on twitter @propOTP

Ryan Shapiro is a PhD candidate at MIT, a former research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and co-founder of Property of the People. Politico has called Shapiro “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light assisted by Property of the People legal strategist, Gunita Singh.

Community Control Over Police Surveillance Effort Launches with First Wave of Legislation in 11 Cities

Community Control Over Police Surveillance Effort Launches with First Wave of Legislation in 11 Cities

NEW YORK — Local officials in 11 cities announced today that they are launching legislative efforts to bring transparency to the acquisition and use of local police surveillance technologies for the first time. The measures include mandating explicit city council approval and a public hearing process that maximizes community input into surveillance technology decisions. This locally-led, multi-city effort was developed in partnership with 17 highly-diverse national partner organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Campaign Zero, and the Tenth Amendment Center.

In the rare cases where local police data has been available to the public — in cities like Baltimore, MarylandOakland, California; and Lansing, Michigan — the data has shown a disproportionate use of surveillance technologies in communities of color and low-income areas. The partner organizations have created a set of guiding principles to assist community groups in changing surveillance practices. The principles aim to promote transparency, democratic decision making, and community empowerment with respect to if and how surveillance technologies are funded, acquired, and used.

01.) Predictive policing software uses mathematical and analytical techniques to attempt to predict future criminal activity, offenders, and victims. Historically biased data is input into an algorithm of unknown accuracy, which produces biased results that will only continue the trend of over-policing communities of color and low-income communities.

The first wave of cities announcing legislative efforts today are:

Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Madison, Wisconsin
Miami Beach, Florida
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Muskegon, Michigan
New York, New York
Palo Alto, California
Pensacola, Florida
Richmond, Virginia
Seattle, Washington
Washington, D.C.

“The use of surveillance by local police has been spreading unchecked across the country without regard for the communities that they purport to serve,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Today communities and their local elected officials are taking action to address the disparate impact, financial burden, and threats to civil rights and liberties posed by invasive surveillance technologies.”

02.) Biometric technologies allow you to be identified and tracked using a physical trait, run against DMV, social network, and other databases. Technological limitations and biased engineering practices can lead to false-positives, especially amongst people of color, which results in innocent people unjustifiably drawing the attention of law enforcement.

“Local police surveillance technologies, which are disproportionately focused on African Americans and other people of color, are hurting our communities and undercutting the trust necessary for law enforcement to be effective. These technologies are invading our public spaces and creating a culture of fear,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and its senior vice president for advocacy and policy. “We need to maximize the active engagement and influence our local communities have over surveillance technology decision-making. This first wave of legislative efforts being taken today across the country is a critical first step to moving local surveillance out of the shadows, ensuring transparency and accountability, and protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”

“People of color have long been the targets of government surveillance — but today’s technology makes it more concerning than ever,” said Alvaro Bedoya, founder and executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center. “Communities are being confronted with the very real possibility that law enforcement is tracking them wherever they go — at work, school, places of worship and political gatherings. People need to feel safe in their neighborhoods, and this new effort is an important step in the process of taking back control.”

03.) Aerial view of Baltimore from Persistent Surveillance’s Cessna aircraft. | Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek

This surge of legislative action, which is expected to be replicated in an increasing number of cities across the nation, is guided by the following principles:

  1. Surveillance technologies should not be funded, acquired, or used without express city council approval.
  2. Local communities should play a significant and meaningful role in determining if and how surveillance technologies are funded, acquired, or used.
  3. The process for considering the use of surveillance technologies should be transparent and well-informed.
  4. The use of surveillance technologies should not be approved generally; approvals, if provided, should be for specific technologies and specific, limited uses.
  5. Surveillance technologies should not be funded, acquired, or used without addressing their potential impact on civil rights and civil liberties.
  6. Surveillance technologies should not be funded, acquired, or used without considering their financial impact.
  7. To verify legal compliance, surveillance technology use and deployment data should be reported publically on an annual basis.
  8. City council approval should be required for all surveillance technologies and uses; there should be no “grandfathering” for technologies currently in use.

The national partners in this effort are:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation
Campaign Zero
Center for Democracy & Technology
Center for Popular Democracy
Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Crypto Harlem
Demand Progress
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fight for the Future
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Million Hoodies Movement for Justice
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
National Network of Arab American Communities
Restore the Fourth
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Tenth Amendment Center

Additional resources and information can be found here: www.communityCTRL.com