The demand that cops don’t discuss surveillance technology with members of the media absent Vigilant’s permission likely can’t be obeyed by officials unless they want to risk running afoul of open records laws, which don’t provide an exemption for records corporations would like to keep secret from the public.But the demand is indicative of a truly disturbing pattern emerging in the United States. Local law enforcement obtains federal grants to contract with shadowy surveillance corporations. Those corporations (or the FBI) demand that the law enforcement agencies who buy or contract to use spy technology do not discuss the tools publicly. The technologies in question are highly controversial, largely because they succeed not by targeting specific people suspected of wrongdoing, but by sweeping up the sensitive information of potentially millions of people accused of no crime. The public largely remains in the dark about local law enforcement’s use of these tools, meaning legislators don’t have the information they need to make laws to govern the new technology, and courts can’t rule on the legality of the surveillance.
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