This post is also available in: heעברית (Hebrew)

Law enforcement has grown increasingly reliant on tools like facial recognition software, AI-powered video analysis, and license plate readers. There are 50 million security cameras in the US — one for every six people, more per capita than in China — according to Precise Security. The FBI’s facial recognition database contains more than 641 million images. Axon Enterprise, the nation’s largest supplier of body cameras, recently told investors that the company is eyeing an $11 billion market.

In Israel, there is a growing demand to minimize the surveillance of COVID-19 patients by the Israeli Security Agency’s location capabilities.

However, a new database reveals the extensive surveillance network used by law enforcement agencies across the US to keep an eye on citizens.

The Atlas of Surveillance, a joint effort between the Electronic Frontier Foundation and students from the University of Nevada Reno, maps more than 5,300 cases of surveillance tech deployed by state and local police.

The first-of-its-kind project, a crowdsourced database compiled by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and hundreds of students, uses publicly available information to map state and local law enforcement agencies’ use of surveillance technologies across the US.

The new database is unique in that it maps the use of 12 different tools — including facial recognition, license plate readers, body cameras, fake cellphone towers, gunshot detectors, and drones — across nearly 4,000 police departments. By doing so, it paints a more comprehensive picture of at least 5,300 cases of surveillance tech being deployed nationwide.

While the database is far from complete and will be continually updated, EFF decided to release it now given the renewed spotlight on surveillance technology amid recent protests against police brutality. 

“People are protesting, they’re noticing the body-worn cameras, they’re noticing the strange trucks driving around with weird equipment in the back, they’re noticing drones flying above,” Dave Maass, a senior researcher at EFF and visiting professor at UNR who led the project, told “People are starting to realize as they’re out on the street and they’re having more interactions with police that technology matters.”

As public opinion has shifted around policing, pressure has also mounted on the companies that supply surveillance tech to address flaws in their products or cut ties with law enforcement entirely. Last month, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM bowed demands from employees and activists and agreed to pause sales of their facial recognition tools to law enforcement.