U.S. Capitol Police will start using Army surveillance equipment to monitor Americans as part of a larger effort to improve security and turn the force into “an intelligence-based protective agency” in the wake of the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
Last week, the USCP took possession of eight Persistent Surveillance Systems Ground – Medium (PSSG-M) units, fulfilling a request that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved on June 2. The units capture high-definition video and include night vision, but do not feature facial recognition capabilities.
“This technology will be integrated with existing USCP camera infrastructure, providing greater high definition surveillance capacity to meet steady-state mission requirements and help identify emerging threats,” the Pentagon said.
The same technology was used by troops during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to observe large areas day and night.
The Army will install the units and train Capitol Police on how to operate the systems, the Pentagon said.
In a statement last week, the USCP called the technology “state-of-the-art campus surveillance technology, which will enhance the ability to detect and monitor threat activity.”
The Capitol Police did not provide further details regarding how or where the surveillance equipment would be used, and didn’t provide information on whether data collected would be stored or distributed.
These latest efforts by the Capitol Police have raised some concerns relating to Americans’ privacy rights. Last month, a federal appeals court found similar surveillance technology used by the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) violated the constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
A New York University School of Law independent audit of the systems used by the BPD found the technology allowed the department to track individuals for multiple days.
William Owen, a member of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said the Capitol Police’s new technology is cause for concern.
“These so-called improvements that the Capitol Police have implemented after the insurrection represent an expansion of police power and surveillance that STOP cautioned against in January,” he said, according to The Washington Times.
“As awful as the events on Jan. 6 were, increased use of biased surveillance technology is never the answer,” he said. “Such technology will inevitably be used to target Black, brown, and Muslim communities and protesters, not White, racist, far-right mobs like those who were given free rein to enter the Capitol. So we need greater civilian oversight of police, not greater police power.”
The report comes after the USCP announced it will open regional offices nationwide, beginning in California and Florida, in order to “investigate threats” made against members of Congress.
A report from Roll Call last summer noted that the USCP is currently exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) because it is part of the legislative branch, giving it a level of secrecy and a lack of established accountability methods that aren’t the case for other law enforcement agencies.
“Congress is not subject to the law, and the Capitol Police, as a component of the legislative branch, is also exempt from any FOIA request,” the report stated.