Ways to Challenge Cameras

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With police, schools and corporations rolling out more surveillance cameras, here are some ideas we have to challenge them:

  • Individuals should take measures to protect their privacy (see below)
  • Map the camera's location at cctv.masspirates.org. See the tutorials in Mapping Surveillance;
  • File FOIAs about the cameras with the city or government agency (see Filing a FOIA/Public Record Request below);
  • Find out who owns the pole/structure that the cameras are on:
    • If the pole/structure isn't owned by the city, then ask:
      • the owner whether they gave permission to place the camera there or
      • the city/police whether they asked the pole owner for permission. We have seen cameras come down in such a situation;
    • If it is a city pole/structure, then determine whether whomever authorized followed city's process (see Filing a FOIA/Public Record Request below). Make a stink if they didn't by reaching out to friendly city councilors;
    • If the cameras are wired, whomever owns the pole it is on, and the wires cross public ways, insist on seeing the permits and/or raise a fuss about unpermitted work.
  • Use the city/town/state agency's rules against them when challenging cameras;
  • Schedule protests against the cameras and turn out supporters and media. The more attention you can get on this issue, the better;
  • Talk with elected officials in your municipality for what help they can provide;
  • Advocate for and get passed a Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) ordinance in your municipality. Look over the ACLU's model bill;
  • Keep up the pressure! We won't live our public lives under the state's gaze!

Filing a FOIA/Public Record Request

File a FOIA request with whomever setup the camera for all records related to the cameras in question, including but not limited to:

  • any work orders,
  • permits permissions to place the cameras,
  • what type of cameras they are, who manufactured them and what software are they using, especially if it includes facial recognition features;
  • any communications about the cameras;

College/university police departments as well as quasi-private groups such as the various Massachusetts Law Enforcement Councils have to respond to public record requests. Do not leave them out if you think they may be involved.

If the camera went up to monitor protests or strike actions, be sure to ask police for all communications between the police and parties that may benefit from the increased surveillance, such as the company facing a picket.

Asking friendly city councilors to see if they can find this information out may prove to be faster, but don't let it prevent you from filing the FOIA request. The formality of the FOIA process, while it can be long, provides minimum transparency requirements that could get side stepped if you rely on a public official, no matter how well meaning.

Check out the PirateCon 2017 FOIA: Transparency by a Thousand Papercuts Talk for tips on filing FOIA requests.

Muckrock is a good tool to automate filing FOIA requests. It will automatically remind government officials until they reply.

Personal protection measures

  • Wear a wide brim hat and oversized "shield" polarized sunglasses along with a face mask. (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06X3QP8YD/);
  • Wear anything that covers your face: head, eyes and mouth makes it nearly impossible for police to ID someone. Facial recognition has a hard time seeing through polarization and over-sized sunglasses that cover your eyebrows, making it difficult for facial recognition to map your face;
  • Don't wear branded clothing or masks that have text messages on them.