There are over a million hobby drones registered in the U.S. Add in the unregistered ones, and who knows how high the numbers go. The point is you may never know when you’re being watched. Here are a few steps you can take to avoid invasive drone surveillance.
Hackers, scammers and snoops aren’t the only threats to your privacy. Police departments across the country are stepping up their surveillance. This goes beyond the cameras you can see when you look up.
How do you know the extent of your local police surveillance? Here’s a resource with exhaustive information for the entire country.
How it began
The Atlas of Surveillance is a searchable database project from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). It shows which surveillance technologies, such as drones, automated license plate readers and facial recognition, are used by law enforcement agencies across the U.S.
The pilot program began as a collaborative effort between the EFF and the University of Nevada, Reno Reynolds School of Journalism, in 2019.
In just one semester, the research resulted in 250 data points (each example of surveillance tech used by an agency constitutes a data point). When the site went nationwide in 2020, that number increased to 5,000 data points.
The information comes from public records, crowdsourcing, data journalism, news stories, social media posts, press releases and volunteer assistance. As of November 2022, the Atlas of Surveillance has 10,000 data points, with at least partial data on 5,500 law enforcement agencies in all 50 states and most territories and districts. And it’s only going to grow from there.
The Atlas of Surveillance site states that the information it has is only as good as the source and that government agencies can withhold information. Plus, there’s always the chance of misinterpretation.
While it’s impossible to fact-check every data point, each one is reviewed by multiple journalism students and staff.
What it means to you
How comfortable are you when it comes to surveillance? Does a camera on every street corner make you nervous? Do you worry that your face is constantly being scanned against a database of who-knows-who?
The Atlas of Surveillance lets you search and view databases containing the following examples of surveillance:
- Automated License Plate Readers: Cameras attached to fixed locations or police cars that track license plates.
- Body-worn Cameras: Video cameras attached to police uniforms.
- Camera Registry: A voluntary registry of security cameras people have installed on their properties. Would you let police access your private security cameras anytime they want? Hear Kim’s take on this experimental program.
- Cell-site Simulator: Fake cell phone towers used to spy on people’s phones.
- Drones: Aerial vehicles police use to gather footage from above.
- Face Recognition: Software that can identify a person from their face.
- Fusion Center: Intelligence centers that enable information sharing between local, state, tribal, territorial and federal agencies.
- Gunshot Detection: Acoustic sensors attached to street lights or buildings that passively listen for the sound of gunfire.
- Predictive Policing: Software that suggests neighborhoods or people that need more police attention.
- Real-Time Crime Center: Police analyze surveillance video, intelligence and other bits of data from these hubs.
- Ring/Neighbors Partnership: Police have partnerships with Ring to promote the company’s cameras and Neighbors app to the public. Have a Ring camera? Police can get your footage without permission.
- Video Analytics: Computers automatically analyze video footage and feeds.
The Atlas is a map with over 10,000 data points across the country. Go to atlasofsurveillance.org/atlas to get started:
- Toggle data points on and off from the legend and zoom in and out as needed.
- Click on a data point for more information, such as the technology being employed, which department is using it, a summary of the system and source links.
See what’s going on in your area
Want to narrow your search? Go to atlasofsurveillance.org/search to access a searchable database:
- Enter a city, county, state, or agency in the U.S. and hit Update Search.
- Click more info on any result to get more information on the technology, the agency using it, the vendor and more.
- You can select or deselect the data you want to see from the list on the left.
Related reading: Traffic cameras can now ticket you for having a loud car