Opening the Chicago Surveillance Fund

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) is using its Narcotics asset forfeiture funds to purchase controversial surveillance equipment. Help Lucy Parsons Labs and MuckRock conduct an independent audit of this fund to find out how this forfeiture money is being spent. We need to find out what new surveillance technologies are being used in Chicago - one of the most heavily surveilled cities in the United States.

Through the last year and a half, we have used FOIA to investigate the use of surveillance equipment by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Through multiple FOIA requests and lawsuits, we have demonstrated the CPD’s purchase and use of controversial “Stingray” cellphone surveillance devices among other new surveillance technologies. Also through this work we have seen Chicago Police acting in “bad faith” in fulfilling our FOIA requests.

Further investigation demonstrated that money to purchase this surveillance gear was originating from their “1505” Narcotics asset forfeiture fund. In some cases these funds are seized from citizens only suspected of criminal wrongdoing - citizens not convicted in court. In this project we aim to understand how these funds are spent by conducting an independent audit of the CPD’s 1505 Narcotics asset fund. We are requesting documents to find out what each check in the fund greater than $5000 was spent on.

Our investigations of the 1505 fund thus far have revealed the purchase of a “Hailstorm upgrade” to CPD’s Stingray in order to enable surveillance of 4G LTE cellphones. The use of this equipment has come under intense scrutiny because the authorization may be coming from pen/trap orders which may conflict directly with IL state legislation that protects citizens from unlawful location surveillance - IL SB-2808 (see here, here and here). We have found that these funds are also being used for the purchase of PENLink surveillance software and Cellbrite cell phone forensics software by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) and CPD.

Recently in Chicago, we’ve seen Chicago Police spying on Black Lives Matter activists, potentially even using some of these new surveillance tools. Investigations like this audit are important for bringing transparency and accountability to the use of new surveillance devices by law enforcement. Electronic surveillance devices should have strict policies to regulate their use to prevent inappropriate use of new technologies, such as monitoring political protests. That accountability discussion can only occur if citizens are aware of the tools that local law enforcement are using. However, Chicago Police have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain secrecy around their surveillance devices by fighting citizens trying to get access to public records through FOIA.

We need your help to find out what else the 1505 funds are being used to purchase. To date we have requested about 25% of the 2014 funds (link to mirrors) and have another 25% of 2015 FOIAed. The easiest, best way you can help is by participating. Please file a FOIA for a set of funds that has not been requested on MuckRock.

How to file a FOIA: Click here to copy a sample request, and then copy and paste information from 10 checks at a time from this list. Make sure that the checks your copying haven’t been filed for yet by looking at the request from the bottom of this page (we’ll also be regularly updating the list of checks on the link above to only show un-requested checks).

After you file a request, make sure to tag it “chicago surveillance fund” so we know to add it to this project.

Our FOIA request/response archive: Refer to our archive for example FOIA requests of this type.

If you have trouble or have questions, direct inquiries to foiahelp@lucyparsonslabs.com

Image Credit: Creative Commons image of Chicago Skyline by Daniel Schwen

3 Articles

In the wake of social media spying backlash, help MuckRock explore online surveillance in your town

Twitter joined Facebook and Instagram in blocking access to its data by Geofeedia. As part of a project on protester surveillance with Color of Change, MuckRock has received materials from, among other places, Cooks County, home of the social media monitoring software company, and we’d like you to help us look at similar policies near your home.

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Requester’s Voice: Lucy Parsons Labs’ Freddy Martinez

In early 2014, hoping to learn more about StingRay cell phone surveillance by the Chicago Police Department, Lucy Parsons Labs started filing a few requests - and began a two-year journey into unveiling a secret, multimillion dollar surveillance program.

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Help track Chicago’s surveillance spending

Over the years, we’ve looked at how asset forfeiture programs can be used as major revenue streams for law enforcement, detailing how agencies work around restrictions meant to safeguard due process and finding surprising big ticket items that were seized. Now, working with Lucy Parsons Labs, we’re looking at how one city has used asset forfeiture to fund a surge in domestic surveillance spending.

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64 Requests

Completed

1505 Audit Report

Freddy Martinez sent this request to the Chicago Police Department of Chicago, IL

Withdrawn

1505 checks CPD

Freddy Martinez sent this request to the Chicago Police Department of Chicago, IL