On Thursday morning, the New York City Council’s Committee on Public Safety passed the POST Act, a bill that creates civilian review of the NYPD’s wide-ranging digital surveillance.
The POST Act, which passed 12-1, requires the NYPD to publicly report and describe which surveillance techniques it uses, guidelines and policies surrounding the use of that technology, and what will happen with the data collected from digital surveillance.
As Bedford + Bowery has reported, the full extent of the NYPD’s digital surveillance is currently unknown. But some technologies at their disposal include facial recognition systems, cell site stimulators or “stingrays”, and x-ray machines hidden in unmarked vans.
“I’ve not quite seen a day like this,” said Committee Chair Donovan Richards before the vote, reflecting on the surge of public interest in NYPD oversight and the Committee’s recent 10-hour public hearing on policing. Richards felt encouraged that his experiences as a black man were finally being heard by white allies.
But Richards recognized that as a City Council member, he has also been part of the problem that has led to so much unrest. “I will take ownership of my inability to do more,” he reflected. “These bills barely scratch the surface, and we need to keep the pressure on.”
The POST Act was packaged with other minor police reforms, like making it illegal for officers to obscure their shield numbers, developing an early-intervention system for officers with problematic records, and giving civilians the explicit right to record police activities.
Councilmember Vanessa Gibson sponsored the POST Act, which was first introduced in 2017. “These measures are important safeguards, we believe, to protect the civil liberties and privacy rights of all New Yorkers,” she said.
The next step for the POST Act is a vote before the full City Council, where it is expected to pass with a veto-proof majority.
But as the NYPD pushes back against its passage and other reforms, including calls to defund the Department, Councilmember Gibson believes there’s still much more work to be done.
“This legislation is the floor, and not the ceiling.”