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EPIC Surveillance Oversight Project

The Surveillance Oversight Project is focused on identifying domestic surveillance issues and advocating for better privacy and civil liberties protections to counter the growing use of surveillance. EPIC seeks to limit the use of technologies that can be used in public surveillance of the masses, including biometrics (e.g. facial recognition), drones and surveillance planes, social media monitoring, and automated license plate readers. EPIC focuses on actions of the Department of Homeland Security, federally funded fusion centers, local police, and companies engaged in mass surveillance.

The Surveillance Oversight Project educates the public and policymakers through the documents we obtain through FOIA litigation. EPIC regularly comments on Department of Homeland Security and other agency administrative rules to highlight the impact of surveillance technologies on individuals and vulnerable communities.

Top News

  • EPIC Applauds FTC SpyFone Ban, Urges Similar Remedies in Future Privacy Cases + (Oct. 8, 2021)
    EPIC has filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to finalize a proposed Consent Order that would permanently ban SpyFone from the surveillance business and require the stalkerware company to delete the personal data that it stole. According to an FTC complaint, SpyFone sold surveillance tools that would allow purchasers to install software on another person’s device and surveil their victim surreptitiously. SpyFone also lied about its data security practices and its response to a 2018 data breach. Under a settlement announced by the FTC, SpyFone would be required to notify all affected users, delete any illegally collected personal information, and permanently refrain from selling, licensing, or marketing monitoring products in the future. In its comments, EPIC urged the FTC to finalize the proposed order and to impose similar requirements and bans in the future to protect consumer privacy. EPIC has frequently challenged the FTC over its failure to address consumer privacy harms and has long advocated for the creation of a U.S. Data Protection Agency. EPIC also published a report on the FTC’s unused statutory authorities, What the FTC Could Be Doing (But Isn't) to Protect Privacy, in June.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call on Retailers to Ban Facial Recognition in Stores + (Jul. 14, 2021)
    EPIC and a coalition of privacy and civil liberties groups are calling for stores to stop using facial recognition technology. The new campaign tracks which major retailers use or are considering using facial recognition and aims to pressure these entities to stop. Corporate use of facial recognition is especially concerning because, according to Sen. Ron Wyden, government agencies are already buying surveillance information from corporations to evade warrant requirements. EPIC has joined a number of coalitions urging a ban on facial recognition including: an international letter opposing the technology, a statement of concerns on police use of FR, and EPIC's Ban Face Surveillance campaign. EPIC recently endorsed legislation that would ban federal law enforcement use of facial recognition and pressure state law enforcement to do the same.
  • Competition Executive Order Requires Dept. of Transportation to Address Drone Privacy + (Jul. 9, 2021)
    The Executive Order signed today by President Biden addressing competition in the American economy requires the Department of Transportation to address drone privacy. "[G]iven the emergence of new aerospace-based transportation technologies, such as low-altitude unmanned aircraft system deliveries, advanced air mobility, and high-altitude long endurance operations," the Executive Order reads, the Secretary of Transportation shall ensure that the Department of Transportation take action to "facilitate innovation that fosters United States market leadership and market entry to promote competition and economic opportunity and to resist monopolization, while also ensuring safety, providing security and privacy, protecting the environment, and promoting equity." EPIC has long highlighted the privacy and civil liberties implications of aerial surveillance technology and has called on Congress to "establish drone privacy safeguards that limit the risk of public surveillance."
  • More top news

  • Maine Becomes First State to Enact Statewide Ban on Face Surveillance + (Jun. 30, 2021)
    The Maine Legislature has enacted the country's strongest statewide facial recognition law. Maine's new law prohibits public officials and public employees at the state, county and municipal levels from possessing and using facial recognition technology, with extremely limited exceptions. The Maine law includes a private right of action, meaning that individuals may bring a lawsuit if they believe a government agency or official has violated the law. EPIC Board Member Shoshana Zuboff testified in support of the legislation. "An individual’s ability to control access to his or her identity and personal information, including determining when, how, and to what purpose these are revealed, is an essential aspect of personal security and privacy guaranteed by the Bill of Rights," Professor Zuboff said. "The use of facial recognition technology erodes that ability." EPIC has joined a number of coalitions urging a ban on facial recognition including: an international letter opposing the technology, a statement of concerns on police use of FR, and EPIC's Ban Face Surveillance campaign. EPIC recently endorsed legislation that would ban federal law enforcement use of facial recognition and pressure state law enforcement to do the same.
  • 4th Circuit Rules That Baltimore Warrantless Aerial Surveillance Program Violates Fourth Amendment + (Jun. 24, 2021)
    The en banc 4th Circuit ruled today that Baltimore's warrantless aerial surveillance program violates the Fourth Amendment because it "enables police to deduce from the whole of individuals' movements[.]" The Aerial Investigation Research program was a public-private partnership with Persistent Surveillance Systems that flew several surveillance planes above Baltimore, capturing detailed video of 32 square miles of the city per second. Using the AIR pilot program, Baltimore Police were able to track individual movements throughout the city for up to 12 hours a day. The pilot program was not renewed at the end of its 6-month term last year. EPIC joined an amicus brief in the case, arguing that under Carpenter v. United States the Baltimore Police Department's ability to track individuals with at least 45 days of flight video augmented by automated license plate reader systems constituted a search. EPIC previously filed an amicus brief in Carpenter v. United States and has long fought to limit drone surveillance and other forms of aerial spying.
  • In EPIC Suit, DOJ Identifies 182 Location Data Requests in District of Rhode Island from 2016-2019 + (Jun. 21, 2021)
    As part of EPIC's ongoing lawsuit for cell phone surveillance orders issued by federal prosecutors, the Department of Justice identified 182 orders and warrants for cell phone location data under § 2703(d) from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Rhode Island from 2016-2019. During the same time period, the office handled 453 criminal cases. The District of Rhode Island is one of the smallest districts in the country. EPIC has previously obtained the number of location data requests for the District of Delaware and the Virgin Islands, two of the five districts that the DOJ has agreed to search for location data requests. EPIC is awaiting responses from two of the agency's other prosecutor's offices and will continue to update its comparative table as remaining districts release more information. Currently, prosecutors do not release any comprehensive or uniform data about their surveillance of cell phone location data. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Carpenter v. United States that the collection of cell phone location data without a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The case is EPIC v. DOJ, No. 18-1814 (D.D.C.).
  • European Data Protection Authorities Issue Joint Call for Ban on Facial Recognition Across the EU + (Jun. 21, 2021)
    In a joint opinion regarding the European Commission's Proposal for Regulation on artificial intelligence, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) called for a ban on the use of "AI for automated recognition of human features in publicly accessible spaces, and some other uses of AI that can lead to unfair discrimination." Europe's two main data protection authorities also critiqued the European Commission for failing to include international law enforcement efforts in the proposed regulations. The joint opinion is the latest in an increasing chorus of calls for a ban on facial recognition. EPIC has joined a number of coalitions urging a ban on facial recognition including: an international letter opposing the technology, a statement of concerns on police use of FR, and EPIC's Ban Face Surveillance campaign. EPIC recently endorsed legislation that would ban federal law enforcement use of facial recognition and pressure state law enforcement to do the same.
  • EPIC Asks D.C. Circuit to Review Decision Endorsing Secrecy of Drone Advisory Committee Working Groups + (Jun. 18, 2021)
    EPIC has petitioned the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a recent decision by a three-judge panel allowing the FAA's Drone Advisory Committee to conduct much of its work in secret. EPIC filed suit in 2018 against the industry-dominated Committee, which consistently ignored the privacy risks posed by the deployment of drones—even after identifying privacy as a top public concern. As a result of EPIC's lawsuit, the Committee was forced to disclose hundreds of pages of records under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. But the lower court ruled that the Committee did not need to disclose records from its secretive subcommittees—a decision that divided panel of the D.C. Circuit affirmed in April. Circuit Judge Robert L. Wilkins, writing in dissent, accused the majority of "doing violence to the text" of the FACA and argued that the decision "undermines FACA's purpose and greenlights an easily abusable system[.]" EPIC's petition highlights ways in which the panel's opinion conflicts with past D.C. Circuit decisions and warns that the ruling gives federal agencies "a legal roadmap to evade the public scrutiny that Congress intended FACA to provide. " The case is EPIC v. Drone Advisory Committee, No. 19-5238 (D.C. Cir.).
  • EPIC, Coalition Calls for Surveillance Reforms in Response to DOJ Surveillance of Congress and Reporters + (Jun. 18, 2021)
    In a coalition letter, EPIC and more than twenty civil society groups called for reforms to surveillance statutes authorizing collection of sensitive information and gag orders. The letter follows recent revelations that the Department of Justice spied on members of Congress and the press by collecting their communications and issued gag orders to hide that surveillance. The coalition also called for a thorough investigation by Congress and the DOJ. EPIC recently endorsed a bill to stop government use of facial recognition and other biometric surveillance tools.
  • After Meeting with EPIC, DC Council Chairman Seeks More Information About DC-Area Facial Recognition System + (Jun. 10, 2021)
    In a DC Council Hearing (video starts at 13:22), Chairman Phil Mendelson asked Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's (MWCOG's) Executive Director Chuck Bean for more information on the soon to be shuttered DC-area facial recognition system. The Chairman's questions were prompted by a meeting with EPIC in which EPIC staff pushed for more disclosures on the MWCOG's role in the creation of a secret facial recognition system used to surveil Black Lives Matter protesters last year. Recently, EPIC joined over 40 other organizations to detail the issues with cops using facial recognition and call for a law enforcement ban on the technology's use.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call for Global Ban on Biometric Recognition Technologies + (Jun. 7, 2021)
    In an open letter, EPIC and a coalition of more than 175 civil society organizations, activists, technologists, and other experts called "for an outright ban on uses of facial recognition and remote biometric recognition technologies that enable mass surveillance and discriminatory targeted surveillance." The letter urges lawmakers around the world to stop public investment in facial recognition, prohibit government and private use of facial recognition in public spaces, and mandate disclosure and reparations to individuals monitored or harmed by biometric mass surveillance systems. The letter identifies one-to-many facial recognition identification (comparing an image to a gallery of identified images) as inherently dangerous to the public because the databases of images enable discriminatory targeted surveillance and the technology itself enables comprehensive public surveillance. EPIC began pushing for a ban in 2019 with the launch of the Ban Face Surveillance campaign and recently joined over 40 other organizations to call for a ban on U.S. law enforcement's use of facial recognition technology.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call for Ban on Law Enforcement Use of Facial Recognition + (Jun. 3, 2021)
    In a statement of concerns, EPIC and a coalition of more than 40 privacy, civil liberties, immigrants rights, and good government groups stated that "the most comprehensive approach to addressing the harms of face recognition would be to entirely cease its use by law enforcement." The statement lists six concerns with police use of the technology that can only be addressed by halting its use. The coalition calls for a moratorium or ban on use of facial recognition and urges Congress to not preempt state or local bans in any federal legislation addressing facial recognition. EPIC recently organized a coalition letter that led to the shutdown of a DC-area facial recognition system previously used on Black Lives Matter protesters. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition has gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • King County, WA Bans Local Government Use of Facial Recognition + (Jun. 2, 2021)
    An ordinance passed in King County, Washington bans "any person or entity acting on behalf of a King County administrative office or executive department" fromusing facial recognition technology or information derived from it. The ban includes the King County Sheriffs Department. Seattle's King County is the first county in the nation to ban government use of facial recognition technology. EPIC recently sought records on the US Postal Service's Internet Covert Operations Program use of Clearview AI facial recognition and other surveillance software. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition has gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.

Face Surveillance

Facial recognition imageThe increasing capabilities of facial recognition algorithms and the proliferation of photos along with the easy access to these photos by private companies and governments has supercharged the deployment of face surveillance systems. Facial recognition is particularly dangerous because it allows for covert, and even remote identification on a mass scale. EPIC supports a ban on face surveillance.

Aerial Surveillance

Drone imageManned surveillance aircraft and drones are poised to allow the real-time monitoring of entire urban populations. Advances in camera technology and biometric recognition are now used by law enforcement to follow individuals across cities and in crowds. Corporate aerial surveillance is a growing field, and a growing privacy threat. EPIC opposes the use of mass, indiscriminate aerial surveillance.

Fusion Centers

Drone imageFusion centers are state-run surveillance offices that receive federal funding and Department of Homeland Security staff. These centers are threats to privacy and civil liberties because they are run with minimal oversight, receive personal information from biased sources—including private sector businesses, and engage in unconstitutional surveillance. EPIC calls for an end to federal funding of fusion centers.

Traveler Screening & Border Surveillance

Drone imageTravelers, especially air travelers, are subject to screening databases and technologies as well as widespread surveillance of their movements. Similar mass surveillance happens at the border, which is often used as a testing ground for new surveillance technologies. The federal government collects vast amounts of information at airports and land border crossings. EPIC works to limit the use of surveillance technologies against travelers and at the border.


Biometrics imageBiometric data collection, particularly for facial recognition and DNA analysis, pose significant threats to privacy. Facial recognition allows for covert or even remote identification on a mass scale without consent. DNA can reveal sensitive health data.

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Agency Comments

Police Body Cameras

Body Cameras imagePolice body cameras are meant to combat police abuse and provide a mechanism for accountability of police officers. But, the devices raise serious privacy issues as they point outwards, towards the public capturing our public movements and already law enforcement is looking to expand the uses beyond police accountability by adding facial recognition capabilities.

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Public Surveillance

Public Surveillance imagePublic surveillance takes many forms--from license plate readers gathering data on passing cars, to closed-circuit TVs monitoring every passerby. Advancing technology is eroding the privacy in public we once enjoyed.

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