How to Observe Police Surveillance at Protests
Uh hello everyone, my name is dave, moss, and i am a senior investigative. Researcher, at the electronic, frontier, foundation. And today i'm going to be talking to you about how to spot, police surveillance, technologies. While attending protests. So there we're going to split this talk into four different, areas. Uh and based on where you might find that surveillance, so we're going to talk about the surveillance, that might be on the police officer's, person. We're going to talk about surveillance, that might be on roadways. We're going to talk about the surveillance, that's in the air, and then finally the surveillance, that might be permanently. Placed, in the areas, that protests are occurring. So let's start with on police officers, bodies, and we mean by that, uh they're uniforms. It might be attached to their belts, you might see them carrying it in their hands. Now the most common one that you're going to encounter, are body worn cameras. These, are, essentially just small video cameras, usually box shaped that are attached to police officers uniforms. These really became, popular. In during the obama administration. Originally, as a measure, to counter police brutality. But they've actually become, the means, of, surveilling, protesters. As well as surveilling, other people who have encounters, with police departments. So we do know, that uh body camera footage, is being used, to prosecute. Uh, activists. Um for example here's a story from flagstaff. Arizona. In which, protesters, weren't arrested, at the protest, itself, but based on body-worn, camera footage, police then arrested, about 10-11. Other people, three weeks later. So, when you're looking at a police officer, there's a few places you're going to want to look for a body-worn, camera, there's going to be a lot of kind of confusing, things going on there's going to be walkie-talkies. They're going to be a badge there might be a name tag, but as far as the technology, goes you're going to really want to look on either the left or right side of the uniform. Maybe even in the center, or in the person's, the police officer's, pocket, but you also might look at the shoulder, or around the head or helmet, or hat that the police officer, is using. So the most common type of body worn camera is going to be mounted on the chest these are also, called, uh front-facing. Cameras. Um, but really you're just going to look for the center of the chest on the left or right, the one that's displayed, here on the bottom is the axon. Camera, and that's going to be the most common, one, out there. Um there are other cameras that might be mount, mounted on a police officer's, shoulder, or on their shoulder e paulette. The axon, model that i showed you a second ago actually has a secondary, attachment, that can go on the shoulder. And the one that's displayed, here, the blue line innovations, camera. Is actually a 360. Degree camera that can see in all directions. Sometimes you might see something that looks like a cell phone in a police officer's, pocket. That actually could be a body worn camera, as well, there's a company called visual, labs. That, uh, that, that, does retrofit. Um or augment. Uh. Mobile phones to work as body-worn, cameras, there might even be a clip, holding that camera. And then finally you're going to want to look around the police officer's, face sometimes. There might be a camera, attached to some specialized, glasses. There might be something attached to a riot helmet. Uh or, you might even have the lens, as part of the eyewear, itself, which is what you see in the bottom right there's a lens right between, uh the uh the, the. The lenses, of the eyewear. Moving on to the next technology. Uh we want to talk about mobile biometric. Devices, and by biometric. We mean, technologies. That can. Identify. You based on a physical, characteristic. Or behavioral. Characteristic. So the most common one you might be familiar, with, are fingerprints.
You You know, the technology. Matches, various. Or maps out various parts of your fingertip. And and then will match your fingerprint. To other versions of your fingerprint, perhaps if you've been arrested, earlier, or you've been. Uh applied for a job. Uh, face recognition, works very similarly. And, uh in which it maybe measures the distance between your eyes and your eyes and the nose, and then creates a print of that that can be matched, against other images of your face. Now, specifically, here we're looking for mobile devices. That can do face recognition. Fingerprint, scanning. Or other types of biometric. Collection. And sometimes these devices, are going to look just like a cell phone, or, other device. And you're really going to want to look for how police are using them, so uh if they're holding them up at eye level or they're requiring, detainees, to put their finger on the device. You're also more likely to see these being used, after people have been detained. So either they have been put in handcuffs, that have arrested, or they've been pulled aside. That's where you might see a law enforcement, officer, use this technology. To show you what these look like, here's some technology, that was used in san diego. Um, these are, just. You know souped up android, phones, but you can really tell that a police officer, is doing something, special, with these phones. In order to do face recognition. Um some of the devices, can do not only, face recognition. But fingerprinting. So this device here is a very common fingerprinting. Device it is the dataworks, plus evolution. You can see that the little top square there is where a person is required to put their fingerprint, to get a fingerprint, scan, but on the back of the phone or the back of the device there's a little lens that will do face recognition. So if you see it you know you might see a police officer using a device, to collect, like single device to collect multiple, forms, of, biometrics. So let's move on to vehicles, and roadways. When you think about a protest. You can't just limit your thought to where people are marching, or where people are rallying, you have to think about the protest. Uh to include the parking lots and the streets, around, the protest where people are leaving their cars, because certainly that's what police are viewing as the protest, and they're putting surveillance. On those. And exit points of the protest, area. So let's start with the area, adjacent. To the protests. Um. One of the technologies, that we look for, are things called license plate readers, now these are specialized, cameras. That, are designed, to look for license plates and when it sees a license plate it will take a photograph. It will digitize. The letters and numbers, and upload that information, to a database. Along with. Time stamp. And the gps, coordinates, in other words it will. Grab the license plate and tell police, where and when that license please, that license plate was seen somewhere. And that gets added, to a database. That police can search later on. And we do suspect that license plate readers are being used. Against protesters. Here's an article from forward. That found, that, uh in long beach. Police were confiscating, the vehicles, of. Of people suspected, of attending a protest. And, knowing what we know about how the long beach police department uses license plate readers, we do believe they are being used. One of the ways that police officers will use, license plate readers, is by dragging, specialized. Trailers, to the entry and exit points of neighborhoods. These will look like speed trailers a lot of the time where it tells you how fast you're going. In some cases. The you know these speed trailers use radar. But if they're using radar they're not putting it near a protest, they're putting it near a protest, it probably is a license plate reader based uh speed trailer. Um police, will also, attach license plate readers to the tops of their vehicles. And then police will drive around, collecting license plates, of cars they pass. Now there's a technique, called gridding. Where a police officer will systematically. Go up and down a parking lot or or block by block through a neighborhood. Collecting. Everybody's, license plates. So if you do see a police off a police vehicle, with one of these cameras. Engaging, in that kind of behavior.
That Could be gritting. Uh so, one other element, is uh license plate readers, that are attached, to stationary. Locations. We call these fixed license plate readers. And generally, they're attached to street lights, or traffic, lights, or they might even be attached to a stand-alone. Solar powered, pole. You're going to want to look for these perhaps around intersections. On the outskirts. Of. Protest, zones. Now, there are also, technologies. That, might be moved, into, protests. So police. May want to enhance. Their, surveillance, capabilities. By. You know using, a specialized, surveillance. Unit, that, you know usually, set on wheels, either, either a vehicle, itself or is, a trailer that can be towed, into. Um, a, uh a protest, zone, so what you see here on the right, is, a surveillance, trailer that the santa fe, santa fe police department. In new mexico. Towed, into a protest, or towed, near a protest, against a monument. And then captured footage, of. Uh, people taking down, that uh offensive. Monument. Um so two particular. Uh, flavors, of this i want to call out for you, the one on the left we might call a surveillance. Watch tower. These are either trailers or vehicles, that have an actual compartment. That a human being, can sit in, to surveil a protest, or some other public gathering. These often have cameras, and other kinds of technology, attached to it but one important thing to note is that these function regardless, of whether somebody, is, in the, uh the watchtower. Or not, these can broadcast, remotely, so even if they seem empty, they could be active. Now the one on the right looks like this the one from the previous, slide. Uh it is a surveillance, trailer, or it might be called a surveillance, unit. Uh but these usually have a tower that extends, up in the air, with a few surveillance, cameras. And these broadcast, remotely, as well. And we generally, don't see, a, police officer, lingering around, these technologies. Because that's kind of not the point of them the point is for them to broadcast, remotely. Um so lately. Uh, protesters, have been contacting, us saying they've seen, trucks, mounted with some very strange looking cameras. Um like the ones pictured, here, um these are actually manufactured, by a company called fleur, and floor stands for forward-looking. Infrared. And that means they do thermal, imaging this is a technology, that police might use at night, to. Identify. Where protesters. Or protest, groups are moving, in a uh in a city scenario. One uh, last, piece of uh last vehicle, i want to highlight for you, are these command, vehicles, or sometimes called cyber response, vehicles depending on their capabilities. Now these are going to be massive. Rv. Sized. Uh, uh. Vehicles, that you know, you know several people can be inside, at any given time, now these are not going to be in the middle of the protest, they might be a block, over or a couple blocks over but they're not going to be far from the protest. If they're being used. Inside. There might be, uh, the. Television, screens and monitors, that you'd use to watch, remote. Uh video footage, or it might be transmitting, video footage, onto, another command, center. Um sometimes, these. Vehicles. Have all the technology, you need, to, do mobile phone forensics. That is if they confiscate, people's phones or devices. There could be the technology, inside. Uh. These mobile command centers, to extract, data, from those, those phones, and. Computers. I want to clear up a couple misconceptions. Uh, just to, make sure that you you know what you're encountering. Due to assaults, on members of the press, as well as the theft of equipment. Um a lot of news organizations. Have started using, unmarked.
Vehicles. Now these are going to look like vans. Uh they might have a satellite, dish on top they might have a giant. Antenna. That. Extends into the air. Just because something's unmarked, and has, a satellite district antenna, you shouldn't assume that belongs to law enforcement. They could belong to a news organization. Now similarly. People, some people have, have. Come to the conclusion that whenever they see a vehicle that has an antenna. Or a satellite, dish that it might be a technology. Called a, stingray. I'm going to talk about stingrays, for a moment. So, stingrays. Or are also called, ims, eye catchers, or cell site simulators. But essentially, these are technologies, that police, use to surveil, people's phones. Stingrays, pretend, to be cell towers, people's phones connect to them, and that's how police get data from people's phones. Now. Few things to know first of all. These are not going to be, you know these are generally not going to be visible. Uh to an observer, uh. Mostly because either they're kept inside, of police, vehicles. Or they might be in aircrafts. We've seen the cell side simulators. That are so small that they can fit in somebody's, jacket, pocket. Really, to detect, the use of one of these uh technologies, while at a protest. You need some sort of specialized. Equipment. Um. But you know to be honest a lot of the use of cell site simulators. Tends to come out through litigation. Through. Court filings, or, freedom of information, act requests. So let's move to the air. And the types of technologies, the police, will put above us to surveil, usually. Large-scale, protests or, surveil protests, from a bird's eye view. These come in a couple different categories. There might be planes, or helicopters. Or drones. They often have. Uh, high definition. Cameras, attached to them they might even be equipped with thermal, imaging. Or, other technologies, like license plate readers or face recognition. Or cell site simulators. A lot of those technologies, though aren't going to be visible, to somebody on the ground. But some technologies, would be. And we do, know. That law enforcement. Is using, footage, from aerial surveillance. To. Investigate, protesters. So here's a news article out of the texas tribune. About how the texas department of public safety. Used a drone to capture, footage. Of a teenager, who had potentially, thrown an item.
Uh Towards, uh state police. The, dps, then used screen grabs from that footage. Posted, it along with a thousand dollar cash reward. And then an anonymous, tipster. Identified, a particular, teenager, as the suspect. So fixed, wing aircraft. Now by fixed mean, fixed wing we mean the traditional, kind of aircraft. Like traditional airplanes. So. They have uh wings, that don't move. Um there is one particular. Contractor. Known as persistent. Surveillance. Systems. Which uses, a small cessna. Aircraft, to gather images, of, cities. Now the image on the right here is a cessna, of the similar, class. That persistent, surveillance, systems, uses. But it's not the exact one, but one of the things you're going to want to look out for are planes, like this that are circling. Protests. Helicopters. A lot of mid to large size police departments, have helicopters. And they frequently, use these, at large-scale. Public events. Um some things to look out for, uh. You know if you look if you're not sure who it belongs to you can look for the tail number but actually the tail number could be useful, in a lot of research. Projects, afterwards. Um you can even look for cameras maybe there's a police officer leaning out with a telephoto, lens, or there might be a camera attached to it like the one here, which is a fleur, thermal, imaging, camera. It's kind of an orb shaped thing but you know you saw the thermal imaging truck earlier and you noticed how it had some strange, lenses. Similar lenses are going to be here. Um these helicopters, will often have spotlights. As well, as as, well as loudspeakers. For communicating, with crowds. Drones. Okay. So it's become very very common for police departments, to have drones. Which are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles. Or unmanned, aerial, systems, but essentially, these are remote controlled, aircraft. Equipped with cameras. That are used to surveil. Uh gatherings. Or protests. Uh quadrotors. Uh, are the most common type of drone right now. And you know that you can recognize, them by having the four propellers, on top. Now usually. They, are controlled by remote, operator, which you can see in the right hand image but i do want to call your attention to the image on the left, which is what we would call a tethered, drone. This means that the drone. Has a cord attached, to it that allows, police, to. Continually. Charge it to, it's usually attached to a battery, so it can stay in the air longer, the one on the right that doesn't have that function. Does have to return. To the pilot. Repeatedly. To have batteries, swapped, in and out. Sometimes you might not see the drone, you know you might hear the drone in the air or maybe you don't hear or see it, but you might be able to identify. Uh. The people controlling, the drone, the drone, pilots. Uh oftentimes. There need to be two pilots, uh. At any given time. Um and so you would look for police standing on the periphery. Uh because they do usually have to be within the line of sight of the drone, but they'd be on their periphery, holding some sort of remote control device with the screen. And maybe you don't even see those, maybe you see, their vehicle, they came in so we've given you two examples, here uh the two lower images. Showing that you can identify, whether the drone, is there. Based on a vehicle, marked with the terms uav. Or uas. Or aviation. Or even just the logo of the drone. Now they're going to potentially, be other types of aerial surveillance. That are watching protests. That you are just not going to be able to see because they are high altitude, aircraft. So an example of that is the texas department of public safety has a few spy, planes. And customs and border protection, as well some other agencies. Have these very large predator, drones. Which also are very difficult to see sometimes. Also i'd like to clear up some misconceptions. Here about drones and aircraft. Just because you see a helicopter. Or a drone in the air, does not mean it belongs to the police. Journalists, and activists, are often flying drones. And news helicopters. Are going to be far more confident. Common than police helicopters. You know protests here in san francisco, you might see three or four, helicopters. And only one police. Three or four news helicopters, and only one police helicopter. So if you're trying to take notes on what you see, uh at a protest.
You Really shouldn't classify, an aircraft, as law enforcement, until you visually confirmed, it either, by noting the pilots, on the ground, or the markings, on the aircraft, itself. One other technology. You should keep an eye out for, is the drone, killer, a technology, made by a company called ixi. Now there are a few police departments. Who have this technology, which is used, to identify. Control. And take down. Other people's drones, so drones run by activists. Drones, by the press. Uh basically, it's what cops use to, kill drones hence the team, the name drone killer. And it uses radio, signals, in order to, accomplish, that. Task. Let's move on to the final section, uh where to look for permanent, surveillance, in the protest, environment. And with this we're mostly, talking about, camera, networks. A lot of uh, neighborhoods. A lot of. Businesses. A lot of metropolitan. Areas, have started installing. Uh not only, cctv. Cameras, all over the place, but cct, cameras, that involve high definition, video, that are networked, together. That can have, uh thermal, imaging, maybe they've got, um. Ai, technology. They can identify, and track objects, or and now analyze, patterns. Sometimes these technologies. Might belong to law enforcement. Sometimes they might belong to citizens, who are sharing that data with the police. So i want to give you some terms, to help you identify, some of the different cameras out there, so the term bullet camera is going to refer to cameras, that are captioning. Capturing, footage, directionally. They're called bullet cameras because they're usually in that tubular, shape. Dome camera. Is what it looks like a dome, shaped camera. And that dome is going to obscure. The direction the camera is facing, as well as the number of lenses. Now there's one particular, brand of camera that we keep an eye out for uh it's called a vigil on, uh and you're never going to see just one a vigil on camera and you can see it's kind of a dome camera. Other configurations. Might be more bullet camera, based, or. Maybe even, more. Domey. For the lack of a better adjective. But you're never just going to see one there's going to be a whole range of them and they're going to be connected, to some sort of video analytical, software, that can be used to track a protest. At individual, protesters. Or to attract, you know to track the. The movements of the protest, uh as a whole. Um, just a call back here quickly to aopr, cameras those are those license plate cameras. Those are also going to be uh somewhat permanently. Uh, you know affixed. And then probably, one that you may have noticed, but you didn't have the words to describe. Is a pan, tilt zoom camera, or ptz.
Camera. These can be remotely, controlled. Um the operator, can pan. You know all the way around they can tilt up and down and they can also zoom in on particular, things they're interested, in. Um some cities, have, uh what are called, police, observation. Devices, or pods. Um, these, are. Usually, clearly marked as belonging to the police department, they may have multiple, cameras, attached, but as well as other sensors, such as, gunshot, detection. Or, you know thermal imaging, you know. It's going to depend city to city but this example here is from the city of sacramento. And then some cities have started, what are called smart city initiatives. Where. They are, installing. Sensors, on street, lights, and, you know sometimes these sensors are designed. To, uh, you know, dim the the street light when there's no one around, or it's dark out, or they might look for seismic, activity. Or, you know air quality. But more and more we're seeing these these, smart street lights including video cameras, and microphones. And gunshot, detection. So for example, here is one from the san diego, police department. And they certainly have used these, to investigate, protesters. So here's an article from this summer. Um, from the voice of san diego. And then found that in may and early june. Um, there was a lot of, uh investigation. Going on with these cameras, and, uh the black lives matter protests, that were happening. So, that is uh, you know most of the technology, that we uh we expect you to see at a protest, but i do want to give you some resources. Uh so you can further your your learning on this issue. So the atlas of surveillance, is a project of eff, that is a database, of more than six thousand. Individual, surveillance, purchases. Uh made by police, and sheriff, and other law enforcement, agencies. Around the united states, you can go in and you can search by your city your county your state, or particular, law enforcement, agency, to see all the technologies, they might be using.
Uh Spot the surveillance. Is a game. Uh or an experience, that you can use, to train yourself to look for surveillance, technology. Um if you have a vr headset, say like an oculus, go or an htc, vive. Um, you can actually go into a street scene and look around for pieces of surveillance, technology. If you don't have a virtual reality headset. No problem we've actually got a version that works in your desktop, browser. Um if you wanted to read some more in-depth reports, or blogs posts on the surveillance, technology. Eff, street level surveillance, hub, has everything you need. And then if you're wondering how to defend yourself. From surveillance, at a protest. We've got the eff, surveillance self-defense. Guide and there's an entire, section. Uh about how to attend a protest, and the things that you can do in advance, to protect yourself, as well as the things you can do uh to protect yourself while you're at the protest. And with that i would just like to thank you uh for taking the time, to learn about surveillance. At, uh protests. And, if you have any other questions, just reach out, you can find contact, information, as well as well as other resources. At, eff.org.