Methods and Tools of NYPD Surveillance


Advancements in technology have allowed the NYPD unprecedented access into everyday civilians’ phones, homes, and lives.


At the end of 2018, the NYPD announced they are deploying 14 new drones throughout the city. The drones are equipped with sophisticated cameras with 4k resolution. The NYPD fleet of 14 drones is comprised of 11 small drones for tactical operations and two large weather-resistant drones with features that include thermal imaging capabilities, a powerful zoom camera and 3D mapping.

The NYPD claims the drones will be used to monitor traffic and pedestrian congestion at “large scale events”. What constitutes a large-scale event, however, is not known. The NYPD additionally said the drones will not be deployed in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, for example to look inside of residences, unless they have a search warrant.

StingRay Cell Phone Surveillance (also known as “cell site simulators” or “IMSI catchers”)

These cell phone surveillance devices imitate a cell tower by sending out signals to trick cell phones nearby into sending their locations and identifying information. This allows users to track a cell phone user’s location. However, when used to track a suspect’s cell phone, these devices also gather information from the phones of innumerable bystanders. The devices can record every phone number the phone has texted, called or received; and in some cases collect the content of those calls and texts.

The NYPD does not require a search warrant or probable cause to use this technology. Moreover, only 2/1016 uses of the sting ray targeted suspected terrorist activity according to the NYPD’s own activity log.

Mobile X-ray Vans

These vans are military-grade surveillance tools that enable the NYPD to use x-rays to create high-resolution images of the insides of your home or your car without a search warrant.

Social Media Monitoring

At a New York Council hearing in 2018, NYPD Chief of Detectives stated that just like public places, “public social media platforms are patrolled” by the NYPD. According to a NYTimes report, the NYPD has impersonated fictitious female teenagers, sending friend requests to underage individuals to view their private posts. This is in direct violation of fakebook’s policies.

Social media monitoring, however, is complex and rarely straightforward. A “like” or “share” can be interpreted in several different ways. Moreover, the NYPD’s monitoring of social media, could impede an individual’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression. Social media is meant to connect people and promote engagement, but surveillance by law enforcement could undermine and stifle such participation.

Companies like Geofeedia, and many more, scrape images from social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and run them through facial recognition software. These can be used to track protesters pictured in their own or other people’s social media photos, and anybody with an outstanding warrant can be found and arrested.

Using automated tools to monitor social media platforms always comes with false positives, and these tools always import the biases of their creator. This leads us to believe that marginalized communities will be disproportionately affected by these invasive tools.

Project Hemisphere

AT&T’s top-secret mass surveillance program Project Hemisphere allows law enforcement to buy records going back to 1987 so they can track callers’ whereabouts and contacts without a warrant. Project Hemisphere is similar to the NSA spying program uncovered by Edward Snowden, but is even bigger, adding $4 billion call records to its database each day