California police refuse to release documents related to surveillance technology on copyright grounds

California police have refused to release documents related to the surveillance techniques they use, despite new legal requirements to do so,media reported. Act SB 978, which came into force on 1 January, requires the Peace Officerstandards Standards and Training Commission (POST) to publish training materials for all law enforcement agencies. The agency said it would not comply on copyright grounds.

Any attempt to download training materials on facial recognition technology or automatic license plate recognition (ALPR), as well as materials related to courses on the use of force, will result in a Word document that reads, “The course offered has required the online extension of the course’s copyright.”

This is not the first time California has blocked access to records made public by transparency laws. When the landmark Transparency Act SB 241 came into force last year, law enforcement agencies responded by ignoring court orders to turn over documents, charging high fees to obtain them and, in some cases, burning or shredding them. Police unions have been particularly strong in the fight against transparency.

On Thursday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation sent a letter to POST outlining why such copyright requirements are illegal and unacceptable, noting that California’s public records law allows copyrighted material to be made available to the public.

California police refuse to release documents related to surveillance technology on copyright grounds

“The public has a right to know how peace officials are trained — and for good reason. The use of force by police officers can result in bodily harm and, in some cases, death,” the letter reads. “ALPR and facial recognition technology have accumulated a wealth of data on California residents. Both technologies have triggered legislative action at the state and local levels, and the public must check whether training reflects new and evolving laws. “

In 2020, an auditor raised concerns about the use of ALPR by multiple agencies, including “fundamental problems with the police ALPR policy, failure to conduct audits, and misuse of ALPR data to monitor political gatherings or the risk of targeting immigrants.” Facial recognition technology has been widely condemned as racist by experts, so much so that employees at large technology companies such as Google are demanding that employers stop selling the technology to police departments.