EPIC Surveillance Oversight Project

The Surveillance Oversight Project is focused on identifying domestic surveillance issues and advocating for better privacy and civil liberties protections to counter the growing use of surveillance. EPIC seeks to limit the use of technologies that can be used in public surveillance of the masses, including biometrics (e.g. facial recognition), drones and surveillance planes, social media monitoring, and automated license plate readers. EPIC focuses on actions of the Department of Homeland Security, federally funded fusion centers, local police, and companies engaged in mass surveillance.

The Surveillance Oversight Project educates the public and policymakers through the documents we obtain through FOIA litigation. EPIC regularly comments on Department of Homeland Security and other agency administrative rules to highlight the impact of surveillance technologies on individuals and vulnerable communities.

Top News

  • EPIC, Coalition Call for Ban on Law Enforcement Use of Facial Recognition + (Jun. 3, 2021)
    In a statement of concerns, EPIC and a coalition of more than 40 privacy, civil liberties, immigrants rights, and good government groups stated that "the most comprehensive approach to addressing the harms of face recognition would be to entirely cease its use by law enforcement." The statement lists six concerns with police use of the technology that can only be addressed by halting its use. The coalition calls for a moratorium or ban on use of facial recognition and urges Congress to not preempt state or local bans in any federal legislation addressing facial recognition. EPIC recently organized a coalition letter that led to the shutdown of a DC-area facial recognition system previously used on Black Lives Matter protesters. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition has gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • King County, WA Bans Local Government Use of Facial Recognition + (Jun. 2, 2021)
    An ordinance passed in King County, Washington bans "any person or entity acting on behalf of a King County administrative office or executive department" fromusing facial recognition technology or information derived from it. The ban includes the King County Sheriffs Department. Seattle's King County is the first county in the nation to ban government use of facial recognition technology. EPIC recently sought records on the US Postal Service's Internet Covert Operations Program use of Clearview AI facial recognition and other surveillance software. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition has gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • EPIC Seeks Privacy Impact Assessment for Postal Service Covert Surveillance Program + (May. 25, 2021)
    EPIC, through a Freedom of Information Act request and letter to the USPS Privacy Office, is seeking the required Privacy Impact Assessment for the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) operated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. First revealed by Yahoo News in April, the iCOP uses Clearview AI's facial recognition system and a suite of social media monitoring tools to surveil individuals online, including protesters. EPIC also urged the USPS Privacy Office to fully comply with the E-Government Act of 2002 by proactively publishing privacy impact assessments online. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition has gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • More top news

  • Surveillance Court Finds FBI Repeatedly Misused FISA Program to Conduct Unlawful Surveillance of Americans + (Apr. 29, 2021)
    The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) recently disclosed an opinion revealing that the FBI has repeatedly misused Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to gather information in domestic investigations. Section 702 (sometimes referred to as the "PRISM" program) authorizes certain programs of surveillance of private communications for foreign intelligence purposes, without prior court approval, where the surveillance targets non-US persons located abroad. The law has been widely criticized, in part, because of the "backdoor search" loophole that allows domestic law enforcement officials to access Americans' communications without a warrant. The surveillance court previously found that the FBI's procedures for obtaining information through backdoor searches violated the Fourth Amendment. The newly published opinion demonstrates how the FBI has failed to reform these unlawful practices. An audit revealed that the agency searched FISA information 40 times last year while investigating a wide range of purely domestic crimes, including health-care fraud, gang violence, domestic terrorism by "racially motivated violent extremists," and public corruption. Again, the FISC expressed "concern[] about the [FBI's] apparent widespread [Section 702] violations." EPIC has long tracked FISA court orders and advocated for FISA reform. More recently, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking disclosure of a report concerning FBI use of Section 702 authority for domestic criminal investigations and participated as amicus to address the scope of U.S. surveillance authorities in the Court of Justice of the European Union.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge End to DC-Area Facial Recognition System + (Apr. 28, 2021)
    In a letter to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, an EPIC-led coalition of privacy, civil liberties, and good government groups urged the Council to end the National Capital Region Facial Recognition System (NCR-FRILS) project and disclose all documents associated with it. In a Washington Post article covering the coalition letter, EPIC Senior Counsel, Jeramie Scott, argued that "facial recognition is a particularly invasive surveillance technology that undermines democracy and First Amendment rights." NCR-FRILS is a facial recognition system used by police departments and government agencies in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area. The system runs comparisons against a database of 1.4 million local mug shots. The project was never publicly announced and was only revealed during the prosecution of a Black Lives Matter protester last fall. EPIC previously submitted a series of open government requests to police departments in the DC-area seeking more information on the system.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call for Ban on Corporate Use of Facial Recognition + (Apr. 14, 2021)
    In an open letter released today, EPIC and twenty four civil rights and social justice organizations called on elected officials to ban corporate, private, and government use of facial recognition technology, suggesting Portland, OR's recent ban on facial recognition as a model. The letter also urges corporate leaders to ban the technology within their companies. The coalition notes recent uses of facial recognition to monitor workers and instances of wrongful firings when facial recognition systems mis-identified black gig workers. EPIC and a coalition recently urged New York City Council to enact a comprehensive ban on facial recognition. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • Virginia to Ban Local Police from Using Facial Recognition + (Apr. 9, 2021)
    A bill passed in Virginia will ban local law enforcement agencies from using facial recognition technology without prior legislative approval starting July 1, 2021. Even when such approval is given, the bill further requires local police agencies to have "exclusive control" over the facial recognition systems they use, preventing the use of Clearview AI and other commercial FR products. However, Virginia State Police and other state law enforcement agencies may continue to use facial recognition without legislative approval. EPIC and a coalition recently urged New York City Council to enact a comprehensive ban on facial recognition. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge New York City Council to Enact Comprehensive Ban on Government Use of Facial Recognition + (Mar. 30, 2021)
    EPIC and a coalition of civil-rights and community-based organizations submitted a letter to New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson urging the council to introduce a comprehensive ban on government use of facial recognition. The letter highlights NYPD's use of facial recognition along with other NYC agencies, the potential for far-reaching surveillance posed by facial recognition technology, and the risk of errors from racial bias in facial recognition algorithms and poor police practices. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition, gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge NYPD to Limit Use of Surveillance Technologies and Disclose More Information on Their Use + (Feb. 25, 2021)
    In comments to the New York Police Department, EPIC called for meaningful limits on the use of mass surveillance technologies including facial recognition, airplanes and drones, automated license plate readers, and social media monitoring tools. EPIC also joined with privacy and civil liberties advocates and academics in coalition comments urging the NYPD to make a good faith effort to meet the requirements of the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technologies (POST) Act. The POST Act requires the NYPD to publish impact statements and use policies for 36 surveillance technologies. The Department's draft policies fail to disclose necessary information including detailed data storage, retention, and auditing practices, do not name the vendors of these technologies, and gloss over systemic racial discrimination in the use of these technologies with boilerplate language. The disclosures illuminate the use of technologies by the NYPD that enable mass surveillance and have extensive documented risks of bias and inaccuracy. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance, and through the Public Voice coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge Biden Administration to Halt Use of Facial Recognition + (Feb. 17, 2021)
    In a coalition letter, EPIC and over 40 other privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights groups called on the Biden administration to 1) place a moratorium on federal use of facial recognition and other biometric technologies, 2) stop state and local governments from purchasing facial recognition services with federal funds, and 3) support the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Act. The coalition letter highlights the threat of facial recognition to create a panopticon of surveillance, the particular harms to people of color, women, and youth from mis-identification by facial recognition, and widespread adoption of facial recognition without public input. Last year, EPIC and a coalition of privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights groups urged Congress to pass Senator Markey's Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Act bill. In 2019, EPIC launched a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice coalition gathered the support of over 100 organizations and many leading experts across 30 plus countries.
  • European Parliament Guidelines Call for Moratorium on Facial Recognition + (Jan. 22, 2021)
    In a report released on January 20, the European Parliament outlines the need for new legal frameworks for artificial intelligence and biometric surveillance. The report raises objections to both civilian and military uses of artificial intelligence, mass surveillance, and deepfakes. The European Parliament was particularly concerned with facial recognition technology, proposing a moratorium on its use in public and semi-public spaces. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance through the Public Voice coalition.
  • FAA Announces Final Rule for Remote Drone ID + (Jan. 6, 2021)
    The Federal Aviation Administration posted the agency's final rule for remote drone identification. The final rule will require all drones to broadcast drone ID information in real-time, eliminating the option in the proposed rule to forgo real-time broadcast and only submit drone ID information for retention by a third party. EPIC previously commented on the FAA's proposed rule, urging the FAA to require all drones to provide real-time public access to drone ID information. In 2015, EPIC argued that drones should be required to broadcast relevant information to the public while in operation.
  • New York Enacts Law Suspending Use of Facial Recognition in Schools + (Dec. 23, 2020)
    A bill signed into law yesterday suspends the use of facial recognition and other biometric technology by New York State schools. The ban will last for two years or until a study by the State Education Department is complete and finds that facial recognition technology is appropriate for use in schools, whichever takes longer. EPIC leads a campaign to ban face surveillance through the Public Voice coalition. EPIC recently filed a DC Consumer Protection Complaint alleging that online test proctoring companies have violated students' privacy and engaged in unfair and deceptive practices.

Face Surveillance

Facial recognition imageThe increasing capabilities of facial recognition algorithms and the proliferation of photos along with the easy access to these photos by private companies and governments has supercharged the deployment of face surveillance systems. Facial recognition is particularly dangerous because it allows for covert, and even remote identification on a mass scale. EPIC supports a ban on face surveillance.

Aerial Surveillance

Drone imageManned surveillance aircraft and drones are poised to allow the real-time monitoring of entire urban populations. Advances in camera technology and biometric recognition are now used by law enforcement to follow individuals across cities and in crowds. Corporate aerial surveillance is a growing field, and a growing privacy threat. EPIC opposes the use of mass, indiscriminate aerial surveillance.

Fusion Centers

Drone imageFusion centers are state-run surveillance offices that receive federal funding and Department of Homeland Security staff. These centers are threats to privacy and civil liberties because they are run with minimal oversight, receive personal information from biased sources—including private sector businesses, and engage in unconstitutional surveillance. EPIC calls for an end to federal funding of fusion centers.

Traveler Screening & Border Surveillance

Drone imageTravelers, especially air travelers, are subject to screening databases and technologies as well as widespread surveillance of their movements. Similar mass surveillance happens at the border, which is often used as a testing ground for new surveillance technologies. The federal government collects vast amounts of information at airports and land border crossings. EPIC works to limit the use of surveillance technologies against travelers and at the border.

Biometrics

Biometrics imageBiometric data collection, particularly for facial recognition and DNA analysis, pose significant threats to privacy. Facial recognition allows for covert or even remote identification on a mass scale without consent. DNA can reveal sensitive health data.

Featured Pages

Amicus

FOIA

Agency Comments

Police Body Cameras

Body Cameras imagePolice body cameras are meant to combat police abuse and provide a mechanism for accountability of police officers. But, the devices raise serious privacy issues as they point outwards, towards the public capturing our public movements and already law enforcement is looking to expand the uses beyond police accountability by adding facial recognition capabilities.

Featured Pages

Testimony

Public Surveillance

Public Surveillance imagePublic surveillance takes many forms--from license plate readers gathering data on passing cars, to closed-circuit TVs monitoring every passerby. Advancing technology is eroding the privacy in public we once enjoyed.

Featured Pages

FOIA

Additional Resources

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