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Now he brings it up: Councilor worries ordinance requiring info on police surveillance technologies could mean release of 'classified' information year after he voted for it

ACLU's KadeCrockford

ACLU's Crockford makes point at council hearing.

City Council President Ed Flynn (South Boston, South End, Chinatown, Downtown), who last year joined all his other colleagues in passing an ordinance requiring Boston Police and seven other departments to detail their use of cameras, cell-phone interceptors and other surveillance technologies, today voiced concern that forcing BPD to actually comply could result in the release of information that would help bad guys.

In a hearing this morning on an initial 800-page BPD report on its use of electronic technologies, Flynn said he is now worried how the council could keep certain information secure and private as the department prepares the required yearly updates on their use.

Flynn, who served in the Navy and said he was likely the only councilor to have actually accessed "top secret" information, said the council would have "an obligation to make sure [sensitive information] stays here" and does not get disseminated publicly.

He gave as an example the location of certain monitoring devices. "I just want make sure information is protected and it doesn't get into the public domain."

His concern was echoed by BPD brass - who also helped draft the ordinance the council passed - who said they were worried that the department's need to be as transparent with the public as possible could also possibly affect ongoing criminal investigations. However, they were not able to provide specific examples of how that has happened or might happen in the future.

Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU's Technology for Liberty Program, questioned the point.

BPD "is not like the CIA or the US military, it should not be handling classified information," she said.

While BPD can legally keep quiet on information directly related to criminal investigations, that's not the same as listing the locations of the city's roughly 1,000 surveillance cameras - which anybody with eyes can easily spot - she said. She pointed to her Brunswick-King neighborhood in Roxbury, where "surveillance cameras are all over the neighborhood," which she said knows because she can see them as she walks around.

What would be useful, she said, would be to get an idea of where they are across the city, to see if minority neighborhoods are disproportionately stocked with them.

She said she did hear one counterargument, that criminals who knew the location of cameras could plot an escape route out of the city to avoid all cameras, which she dismissed because, seriously, Boston does not have that sort of sophisticated criminal element.

Fatema Ahmad, executive direct of the Muslim Justice League, asked why Flynn and BPD were raising this issue now, not last year, when the council was drafting the ordinance.

Police officials at the hearing, including Commissioner Michael Cox, said transparency and community policing are paramount, but that they are unfairly criticized by uneducated members of the public who perhaps watch too many TV crime shows or spend too much time on social media. Cox said that when he arrived at the scene of a recent murder, some guy kept loudly demanding police solve the crime quickly because of all the cameras around. In fact, he said, there were no surveillance cameras at that location.

Surveillance tools help police focus in on criminal behavior and often come into use only after a judge has issued a search warrant or during an emergency, he said.

Supt. Felipe Colon said officers only want to do what's right and that strong rules - and in many cases, judicial oversight - ensure data is not abused. Officers, he added, will not tolerate abuse by other officers.

Crockford, though, noted that the public has a right to be concerned about police abuse of data, that innocent people might get swept up in a growing city surveillance system or that bad actors in the department might use access to sensitive data for illegal activities. She pointed to the long BPD career of Patrick Rose, a child rapist who eventually become head of the local police union, as somebody who didn't let department norms, let alone the law, stop him.

Councilors Ruthzee Louijeune (at large) and Julia Mejia (at large) said that along with educating the public, the police need to listen to the public and take their concerns to heart, for example, concerns about the criminalization of the city's Black and Brown residents through such resources as the BPD gang database, which they said had swept up people who have nothing to do with gangs.

Lt. Det. Paul McLaughlin, who spent seven years working with the database, said the department no longer puts people into it simply for associating with known gang members.

"I would argue the gang database is invaluable," by letting investigators see which groups and individuals are responsible for often violent and retaliatory crimes," Colon said.

Colon said Louijeune should do like Councilor Erin Murphy (at large) and spend some time at the Boston Regional Information Center - a regional data-collection agency led by BPD - to learn what the police are up against. Louijeune replied she had already done so.

Louijeune said that even at 800 pages, the BPD report was not complete - while it mentioned that BHA security officers will soon get body-worn cameras, it did not say anything about surveillance cameras BHA has installed at its developments.

Colon said two department lawyers spent "hundreds of hours" collecting and organizing the data required by the ordinance - in addition to the time each bureau in the department had to spend on the submission - but acknowledged the report might not be complete.

Watch the entire hearing (includes additional issues, such as ShotSpotter):


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Ah, Ed Flynn and his extensive naval experience yet again.


He spends a lot of time gazing at his.


Haven't big departments in other cities solved all these issues around camera adoption without the sky falling? Why can't we just point at those and say case closed?


Yes, they have. As have the federal agencies that must occasionally work/negotiate with local police departments. This is an already-solved problem. The question is, why is the BPD suddenly nervous about it.


They don’t care about whether disclosure of information makes things harder or easier for criminals to evade detection. They hate surveillance and want to eradicate it (except for body cams and secret recordings of public officials).

If a BPD disclosure indicated that there are a disproportionate number of cameras in minority neighborhoods, Cade’s solution would not be to put more cameras in Beacon Hill and the Seaport.

If you are going to report on the ACLU’s advocacy re: the inequitable distribution of cameras, at least be honest and give context to the ACLU’s goal - the eradication of public surveillance.


How about we hide the evidence from defendants because it could reveal police methods that help other criminal!

The police are accountable to the people, and if they don't disclose how they perform their job, there is no accountability to be had. If the police are using listening devices in the subway, monitoring social media of school children for "predictive policing", the public should know.

Additonally, our carceral punishment system doesn't provide any safety, only suffering.


Yes, they have.

Today's ACLU does value social justice causes higher than the values it used to prioritize (e.g. liberty).




This statement fails in logic and common sense. Social justice is about living in a just society. Liberty is also about just living in a just society.

They are concepts that are at the heart of the noblest of the ideas behind not just The Constitution, but Judaic theology, Christian theology, etc.

"Why does the organization that's dedicated to protecting the 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 14th and 15th Amendments care about social justice all of a sudden?"

Eradication of public surveillance? What is your evidence for making that claim?

What is weird about the statement is that it implies that public surveillance by government is a good thing.

That is the kind of society that exists in Communist China and would have existed in the Soviet Union had that nation continued. Are you implying that you believe that we should be a society where we are under surveillance by the police?

That uses city owned equipment to make any provisions toward securing a roof deck build in South Boston.

Ed, will literally stroke out.


The BPD (& Flynn) are acting like they have to re-invent the wheel.

It is possible that the BPD, on rare occasions, has some truck with classified information, but it's not going to be much. Same for staties, despite their self-importance-- more than the BPD, but not much, especially given how sour relations between the staties & FBI are. Massport PD is likely the only local force that often needs natsec information.

So forget about classified info. That's not an issue, no matter how much they want it to be. Information that warrants national security protection will get it from the federal agency that makes that determination, NOT from the BPD or the city council, neither of whom have the authority to under EO 13526.
For example, let's say the State Department thinks a foreign national has hacked their computer, and that foreign national happens to be in BPD custody for drunk driving. The State Department reaches out to the BPD to arrange for someone from DOJ to interview the foreign national. The State Department and DOJ will determine if all or part of the emails and forms used to make the arrangements for the interview are classified. They will assume legal and usually physical custody of the material. If the federal agencies (either or both) take material custody, they give the BPD sanitized documents and/or a case number that they can use if the BPD needs information from the contents of the documents. If, say, a journalist asks the BPD to see the communications, then the BPD refers them to the agency. Why? Because the BPD DOES NOT HAVE THE LEGAL AUTHORITY TO DETERMINE OR RETAIN OR SHARE CLASSIFIED INFORMATION period end of subject.

SO! The BPD likely has some information or video/audio recording that fits the "ongoing investigation" protections that the FBI & DOJ & federal courts can use when they have, well, an ongoing investigation. This protection is akin to the work product protection an attorney has for material generated during an active case; OI material is protected from public disclosure so long as the investigation is still happening, even if it seems innocuous, because matters might come to light during the investigation that reveal that the information is not innocuous. When the investigation is done and tried, the protection is gone.

The BPD may be shocked to discover that the FBI & DOJ & federal court systems already have methods in place to protect this information. If the BPD has information or video that warrants protection as OI in a federal case, then they can ask for guidance from the DOJ on how to do that. It's not that hard.

I will say this, which is not at all a defense of the BPD: the state of Massachusetts has horrible & barely enforced FOIA regs. The city's are somewhat better but not good. Guidance for how material that is the property of the citizenry yet needs protection because its revelation would compromise an ongoing investigation or public safety is half-assed at best. Part of why it is half-assed is because the BPD and BPPA have fought creating enforceable regs. My faith that the BPD is acting in good faith when they claim they need to protect classified info is non-existent.


“ BPD "is not like the CIA or the US military, it should not be handling classified information," she said.”

Yeah not sharing info about suspected terrorists with the FBI always works out well


There's room for the BPD to be transparent about how they're investigating cases broadly without needing to reveal every detail of every case publicly.


Wondering how Colon said this with a straight face:

Supt. Felipe Colon said officers only want to do what's right and that strong rules - and in many cases, judicial oversight - ensure data is not abused. Officers, he added, will not tolerate abuse by other officers.


I was about to post the exact same thing. Everyone knows that job one for any cop is to cover for or at least overlook any abuses by other cops.


Are they worried that we'll find out they've been intercepting cell phone traffic without a warrant from thousands of people who aren't suspected of committing any crimes using the stingray that they bought with money from civil asset forfeitures so they could keep it out of the official budget? C'mon guys, we already know you're doing that.


Is Kade against the cameras that could help catch the killers of the all the human beings shot in Roxbury ever year? If silence is generally code as we see historically, then the cameras may be the only voice. If my son was murdered the first thing I would want to know is who did it and which camera could have the killer on video. And as a mother, believe me, the police would show me.


And as a mother, believe me, the police would show me.

I'm sure you would want that outcome, but do you really believe that you would have the power to force them to show it to you? Outrage is powerful, but that's not the kind of power you'd need in this situation.

sometimes appears to be without structure to their minds. not here though. this is an easy one.

Police largely represent the type of personalities in this country who will do anything they can to eat political strongman ass, and give favors to the monied elite, regardless of the trampling of civil liberties, or the baton cracking of innocent skulls. These are people who get a hard-on when they think about hurting the vulnerable. They also kick bad guy ass, when they absolutely have to, or its a good career move.

So yeah, they are gonna stay transparent. lol. easy one.

Pro or Anti cameras, they still don't stop the next shooting or stabbing before it is too late which will result in the next face of another life taken in the locations only UHub brings up front; and that list has unfortunately increased. The untimely and senseless deaths of the individuals on UHub's list with the victim's photos AND LOCATIONS were not prevented by cameras.

Mx. Crockford’s pronouns are they/them. This is easy to Google.


other than a lack of *any* pronouns on their ACLU bio page, which is indicative but not confirming. Where did you find that information?

When they can tell them what they may say or not say when referring to another them?

I saw the name and pic, recognized that Cade/Kade is a really common enby name and thought it was highly likely she/her was wrong based on this expression along with dress/grooming in the pic, so googled their name + “pronouns” and + “they/them” and found speaker bios and a NYT article.

And yes, lack of pronouns is also often a signifier that someone is under the trans umbrella, but it can occur by personal request when someone uses she/her or he/him but isn’t out everywhere, as well as antagonistically when an individual or publication refuses to use someone’s correct pronouns. I constantly have clients (mostly in MA, where we have some of the strongest trans and nonbinary protections in the country) show me letters from their schools and healthcare providers that awkwardly avoid using any pronouns throughout so as not to use the correct ones.

Mx. Crockford, who has been working on technology and surveillance issues since joining the ACLU of Massachusetts in 2009, said that it was “politically impossible” to ban the use of facial recognition in the state. But they believe that additional guidelines will help prevent abuse and false arrests.


Also, Adam, this misgendering article has been up for days, as has a gross comment in the thread from someone who has a history of making transphobic comments on here. Can you please consider what you can do to make this site a safer place for trans/queer folks?