New legislation would require New York police to report use of surveillance technology

Northeast

NEW YORK (WPIX) — The New York Police Department’s recent use of a robotic dog has prompted elected officials to criticize the police department’s surveillance equipment, while police maintained the department has done nothing wrong.

“The time has come for the federal government to step in,” Rep. Ritchie Torre (D) said Saturday.

The representative from New Yok’s Bronx borough announced legislation that would require police departments receiving federal money to report the use of surveillance technology to the Department of Homeland Security and Congress.

“The NYPD refuses to give elected officials the information we need to manage the impact of surveillance technology on our most fundamental freedoms,” Torres said.

The NYPD calls the robotic dog Digidog. It was developed by the robotics company Boston Dynamics. It costs at least $74,000 and it has lights, a camera, and a two-way communication system.

“This is digital stop and frisk, nothing less,” he said. “When we look at Digidog, this dystopian surveillance tool, brought into New Yorkers houses, it hasn’t done anything to keep us safe.”

Local officials have complained the acquisition of the robot police pup violated the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act, also known as the POST Act.

The POST Act passed in 2020 as part of New York City police reform. It required the NYPD to list surveillance tools and uses.

“We believe in the work of law enforcement across this country and certainly the NYPD. But we also believe that New Yorkers have a fundamental right to understand what types of surveillance and technology that the NYPD is using,” said Councilmember Vanessa Gibson.

The police department said critics are barking up the wrong tree. 

“Because the robot is being tested for use in hostage, terrorism bomb and hazmat situations, it was properly classified as a confidential expenditure,” the NYPD said in a statement to WPIX. “The use of the robot was properly reported for public disclosure under the POST Act and is listed on the public facing website.”

The NYPD said Digidog is being leased. It will soon be returned and then evaluated for effectiveness.

The police department called it “comical” that it’s considered surveillance, noting it’s tough to hide.

“The robotic dog is the tip of a much deeper iceberg,” Torres said.

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