The Real Time Intelligence Center (RTIC) is a police-controlled surveillance hub located in the city of St. Louis. This data center receives surveillance information from cell site simulators, photos from license plate readers, and street camera recordings. Reportedly created to fight crime, the RTIC raises serious civil liberties concerns.
Privacy Watch is a coalition of organizations that have joined forces supporting privacy rights at a time when technology is superseding legislation to regulate foreseeable unjust impacts. You can help by urging your alderperson to support Board Bill 66.
Privacy Watch aims to use Board Bill 66 to examine the cost of the technology to taxpayers, how individual privacy is being disregarded, and whether or not surveillance has a racially biased undertone. For example, there is a surveillance camera on Arsenal and South Grand pointed at MokaBees Café, where Black Lives Matter activists and other human rights protesters are known to meet and strategize. We should conclude that police are using the surveillance camera as an intimidation tactic.
As the system expands, so too does its capacity to watch individuals who are not even suspected of a crime as they come and leave their home. It is an invasion of privacy for the government to know when you go to a doctor’s appointment, political rally, or religious gathering. There is undeniable potential abuse by the department and/or individual cops.
Consider also the local activist and protestor being consistently surveilled by a SLMPD officer. The officer pursued this activist after protests from 2016 to the Stockley verdict and beyond using tax dollars. There was an Internal Affairs Division (IAD) investigation; however, the officer has not been reprimanded. How would you feel about the safety of your family if the entity meant to protect you targeted you for standing up for your values and the dignity of your community?
We do not know how much RTIC data is shared with the federal government, now in the hands of the Trump Administration. Even before the current administration, we saw abuses of surveillance. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in large part to combat terrorism. However, documents released by its Office of Operations Coordination prove the department constantly gathered information on Black Lives Matter activists. This was done using the activists’ social media accounts even for events expected to be non-violent and peaceful. The DHS provides surveillance to local government decision-makers. The DHS’ actions are an example of intimidation of an exercise of First Amendment rights.
Additionally, Black Lives Matter activists have even been monitored in Washington, D.C. during an April 29 protest via live updates and Google Maps images. They were monitored, although a FBI joint intelligence bulletin shared with DHS officials referred to the protest as a “First Amendment-protected event.”
Sadly, there is a very long history of federal agencies viewing black movements and organizations as a threat to national security – for example, the Black Panthers being targeted by the FBI. We need to guarantee that data gathered in St. Louis is neither tainted nor shared for the wrong purposes.
To provide necessary civil liberties protections, Privacy Watch proposed Board Bill 66 mandating aldermanic oversight of surveillance. It requires a cost-benefit analysis and consideration of disparate impact on minority communities. It would also require policies on access and use of collected data before the use of surveillance is approved and continually monitored on an annual basis to safeguard against misuse. The policy includes who has access to data, how long data is stored, and release of data to the public. The community is also given a voice during public hearings.
Visit the Privacy Watch STL Facebook page to stay up to date with the bill and other activities. And contact your alderperson and insist that they support Board Bill 66.
Kendra Tatum is an organizer for the Organization for Black Struggle.