Daley’s Casual Proposal to Expand Surveillance Would Build on Chicago’s Already Appalling Legacy

Posted on December 7, 2018

According to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, last month mayoral candidate Bill Daley unveiled a prospective crime-fighting plan that includes adding thousands of additional surveillance cameras to Chicago’s already sprawling network. Even more unsettlingly, the proposal would also add drones to city law enforcement’s arsenal, a tool which government officials at the state and municipal levels have repeatedly attempted to introduce to firm opposition by civil libertarians and activists.

Chicago already has the largest federated system of surveillance cameras in the United States, at 29,000 cameras. The expansion would grow the city camera network to beyond its already unprecedented scope, a feat which was accomplished by Chicago’s longest-serving mayor and older brother of candidate Daley, Richard M. Daley.

In a statement accompanying the announced policy, Daley noted the deterrent effect of the constant watchful gaze of drones and cameras, but it is precisely the certainty of ordinary citizens being caught in this pervasive gaze that makes the proposal so perilous to civil liberties.

“I’d have as many cameras as we could buy so the people could feel safer wherever they’re at,” Bill Daley said as part of his remarks.

Daley seems aware of the extent to which his strategy adopts an intelligence-based approach akin to federal national security intelligence agencies. Ostensibly to adequately process the immense volume of footage that so many cameras and drones would produce, Daley’s law enforcement package would also hire a number of “talented officers skilled in intelligence gathering.”

Daley’s law enforcement initiative does not uniformly imperil civil liberties, though. The plan would see the Chicago Police Department essentially scrap the controversial “gang database,” which has been known to sweep up dozens of individuals with tenuous gang affiliations at best. Instead, CPD under Daley would favor tracking a small and closely monitored roster of gang kingpins rather than distant affiliates.

On the other hand, the broad surveillance architecture in place in Chicago already would only be ripe for overreach in an intelligence-driven policing model under Daley. As Shadowproof reported in 2015, CPD has been known to target peaceful protesters with cell-site simulator devices (more colloquially known as stingrays, and on which CCDBR has written prolifically). Granted, in theory, the deployment of stingrays against activists should be drastically curbed by an Illinois state law, effective January 2017, that requires warrants for their use. In practice, though, such warrants would likely not be difficult to obtain, as released police “worksheets” routinely authorize the police to implement other, more traditional forms of monitoring against organizers engaging in First Amendment-protected activity.

Then, of course, there is the extensive web of ShotSpotter acoustical monitoring devices splayed out across the city. Answering questions posed by the ACLU, ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark, assured privacy defenders that data is not retained on an individual recording device fore more than about 48 hours, and that data is not sent back to police analysis centers until a potential gunshot sound is registered. Even so, the ACLU interview does note that voices may be picked up, retained, and used in prosecution, as demonstrated by recordings featuring vocal audio being submitted as evidence in criminal cases.

As the ACLU also writes, a retention period of even 48 hours is long enough to leave the door open for unaccountable use of recorded content. With no access to the source code of the company’s product, there is no definitive way to determine the exact nature of stated features, either—anything the company declines to tell the public simply cannot be known for sure.

Taken together, it should cause grave concern that a proposed law enforcement policy—governing one of the country’s largest population centers—which so dramatically increases law enforcement’s surveillance capabilities is advanced so casually in the run-up to an election. It is also no coincidence that the author of such a proposal is the brother of the figure who played the foremost part in creating the surveillance apparatus on which the plan builds.

The City of Chicago must at minimum adopt and make public strict rules governing the use of surveillance camera images by police or other users.

Jonathan Terrasi has been a Research Assistant with the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights since January 2017. His interests include computer security, encryption, history, and philosophy. In his writing, he regularly covers topics on current affairs and political developments, as well as technical analyses and guides on security issues, published on his blog, Cymatic Scanning, and Linux Insider.