The Atlas of Surveillance Hits Major Milestones: 2023 in Review

Deeplinks 2023-12-28


"The EFF are relentless."

That's what a New York Police Department lieutenant wrote on LinkedIn after someone sent him a link to the Atlas of Surveillance, EFF's moonshot effort to document which U.S. law enforcement agencies are using which technologies, including drones, automated license plate readers and face recognition. Of course, the lieutenant then went on to attack us with unsubstantiated accusations of misinformation — but we take it all as a compliment.

If you haven't checked out the Atlas of Surveillance recently, or ever before, you absolutely should. It includes a searchable database and an interactive map, and anyone can download the data for their own projects. As this collaboration with the University of Nevada Reno's Reynolds School of Journalism (RSJ) finishes its fifth year, we are proud to announce that we've hit a major milestone: more than 12,000 data points that document the use of police surveillance nationwide, all collected using open-source investigative techniques, data journalism, and public records requests.

We’ve come a long way since the Atlas of Surveillance launched as a pilot project with RSJ back in the spring semester of 2019. By that summer, with the help of a few dozen journalism students, we had accumulated 250 data points, focused on the 23 counties along the U.S.-Mexico border. When we launched the formal website in 2020, we had collected a little more than 5,500 data points. Today's dataset represents more than a 100% increase since then.

That isn't the only major milestone we accomplished this year. To collect data for the project, EFF and RSJ designed a tool called Report Back, which allows us to distribute micro-research assignments (about 10-20 minutes each) to students in our classes. This winter, the 3,000th assignment was completed using Report Back.

This year we also dug into one particular technology. As part of our Atlas efforts, we began to see Fusus—a company working to bring real-time surveillance to local police departments via camera registries and real-time crime centers—appear more frequently as a tool used by law enforcement. In collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, we decided to do a deeper dive into the adoption of Fusus, and the Atlas has served as a resource for other reporters working to investigate this company in their own towns and across the country.

We’re proud to have built the Atlas because it’s meant to be a tool for the public, and we're excited to see more and more people are discovering it. This year, we clocked about 250,000 pageviews, more than double what we've seen in previous years. This tells us not only that more people care about police surveillance than ever before, but that we're better able to inform them about what's happening locally in their communities. The top 20 jurisdictions with the most traffic for include:

  1. Phoenix, Ariz.
  2. Chicago, Ill.
  3. Los Angeles, Calif.
  4. Atlanta, Ga.
  5. New York City, N.Y.
  6. Austin, Texas
  7. Houston, Texas
  8. San Antonio, Texas
  9. Seattle, Wash.
  10. Columbus, Ohio  
  11. Las Vegas, Nev.
  12. Dallas, Texas


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street-level surveillance


Dave Maass, Beryl Lipton

Date tagged:

12/28/2023, 20:01

Date published:

12/28/2023, 11:24