The United States Capitol Police will begin deploying military surveillance equipment as part of sweeping security upgrades as the force becomes “an intelligence-based protection agency” after the January 6 attack.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently approved a Capitol Police request for eight units of Ground-Medium Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSSG-M). The system provides high definition surveillance video and is activated with night vision. The system does not include facial recognition capabilities, the Pentagon said.
âThis technology will be integrated with the existing USCP camera infrastructure, providing greater high-definition surveillance capability to meet steady-state mission requirements and help identify emerging threats,â the Pentagon said.
The technology has enabled US troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to monitor large areas 24/7 using very high-resolution cameras.
Some privacy advocates have expressed concern that the Capitol Police are embarking on spying on Americans.
In one wartime application, persistent surveillance units were mounted on captive airships. The data could be stored, combined with sensor data from other platforms, and later referenced or rewound to track individuals or groups.
The military could use the system to develop “life model” analyzes on suspected enemy combatants or intelligence targets in war zones. It could determine, for example, who was responsible for setting up an improvised explosive device.
The Department of Homeland Security has praised the same or similar technology, described as one or more Persistent Ground Surveillance Systems (PGSS), through the Department of Defense, according to a 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office. . It is not clear whether another agency has implemented the exact technology nationwide.
A federal appeals court ruled last month against the Baltimore Police Department’s use of persistent surveillance technology similar to the Pentagon’s Gorgon Stare, which incorporates mounted large-area moving imaging modules. on airplanes. The system has enabled police to track hundreds of moving targets at a time over a large geographic footprint. The court said the program was unconstitutional and violated Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
The technology used in the pilot program in Baltimore, known as aerial survey research, was owned by a private company, and the pilot program was privately funded. The technology has allowed the police department to capture up to 12 hours of footage per day.
New York University Law School independent audit team found that the Baltimore Police Department kept a significant amount of footage from the surveillance system and used the footage to track individuals for several days. .
Capitol Police provided few details when the Washington Times asked for details on how and where the department will use PSSG-M equipment. The agency would not say if the data will be stored or disseminated or if the system will be used only for real-time observation.
The Pentagon said the military will set up the units and train Capitol Hill police officers to operate and maintain the system. The military will not operate the units once they are installed.
When asked whether the data from the PSSG-M system would be passed on to agencies other than the Capitol Police or to what extent bringing the system into service would specifically improve the Capitol’s security infrastructure, the department declined to comment. to respond.
“I hope you can understand that it wouldn’t be smart of us to tell the world all of our abilities,” a Capitol Police official told The Times.
As an agency of the legislature, the United States Capitol Police are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Lynne Bernabei, a Washington-based lawyer specializing in civil rights litigation, said Capitol Police’s use of PSSG-M technology does not immediately raise civil liberties concerns. Given the extraordinary circumstances of the Jan.6 attack, she said, the use of the technology could be legitimate.
The problem with setting up surveillance technology has never been with the technology itself, but with how the resulting data is used to stereotype or target certain individuals and groups, Ms. Bernabei said.
Others are less convinced that the technology will be put to good use.
William Owen of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project said the integration of the technology signals an alarming advance in police surveillance.
âThese so-called improvements that the Capitol Police implemented after the insurgency represent an extension of police powers and oversight that STOP warned against in January,â he said.
âAs horrific as the events of January 6 have been, the increased use of biased surveillance technology is never the answer,â he said. âSuch technology will inevitably be used to target black, brown and Muslim communities and protesters, and not white, racist, and far-right crowds like those who have been given carte blanche to enter Capitol Hill. So we need more civilian oversight of the police, not more police power. “
The integration of military technology was among many changes announced by Capitol Police last week. Another plan is to open field offices in California and Florida to “investigate threats against members of Congress.” Additional regions are under consideration for field offices, the announcement said.
Capitol Police also announced increased intelligence sharing with local and federal law enforcement entities and “increased partnership within the intelligence community.”
The House Sergeant-at-Arms announced last week that the United States Capitol Police would remove the security fence that surrounded the Capitol since the aftermath of the Jan.6 attack. The statement said the decision was based on an assessment of the current threat environment.