NYPD ordered to disclose thousands of docs related to facial recognition surveillance during Black Lives Matter protests

Barry Williams/New York Daily News/TNS
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The NYPD must disclose thousands of documents and emails revealing facial recognition surveillance of Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020, a judge has ruled.

The case, brought by Amnesty International, confronted the NYPD’s denial of a Freedom of Information Law request for 2,700 documents pertaining to its monitoring of protesters across the city.

Amnesty International filed its request in September 2020, claiming facial recognition is a discriminatory policing tool preventing peaceful protest with mass surveillance — and that people of color are at greater risk of being targeted by the Orwellian technology.

In response to the request, the city’s Department of Records said the FOIL application was denied because it would interfere with law enforcement work, judicial proceedings and would “reveal non-routine-techniques and procedures,” according to court records.

But in January, Amnesty International appealed — and again, the NYPD refused to hand over the documents, saying the request was too broad , didn’t “reasonably describe a record” and “would require extraordinary efforts.”

If the NYPD granted the original voluminous request, 30 million emails would have to be reviewed — a request New York Supreme Court Justice Laurence Love determined would be “unduly burdensome.”

Lawyers for Amnesty International and the NYPD narrowed down the document dump to 2,700, which Love deemed “a far more reasonable number.”

On Friday, Love ordered that after the FOIL request is resubmitted, the NYPD fork over the requested documents.

“New Yorkers demanding racial justice have a right to know the full details of NYPD’s use of facial recognition technology during the BLM protests,” said Matt Mahmoudi, Amnesty International’s researcher on artificial intelligence and human rights.

“This ruling recognizes that the NYPD broke the law in withholding this information and is a significant step in holding the NYPD accountable for its use of discriminatory surveillance.”

The executive director of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a privacy and civil rights group, claimed the NYPD intentionally denied the public record request to “hide the evidence.”

“I hope that Mayor Adams’ NYPD quickly complies with the order,” said Albert Fox Cahn. “New Yorkers deserve to know how political dissent is policed in this city. More importantly, these records can help us prevent more abuses in the future.”