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, Coalition Urge NYPD to Limit Use of Surveillance Technologies and Disclose More Information on Their Use + (Feb. 25, 2021)
    In comments to the New York Police Department, EPIC called for meaningful limits on the use of mass surveillance technologies including facial recognition, airplanes and drones, automated license plate readers, and social media monitoring tools. EPIC also joined with privacy and civil liberties advocates and academics in coalition comments urging the NYPD to make a good faith effort to meet the requirements of the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technologies (POST) Act. The POST Act requires the NYPD to publish impact statements and use policies for 36 surveillance technologies. The Department's draft policies fail to disclose necessary information including detailed data storage, retention, and auditing practices, do not name the vendors of these technologies, and gloss over systemic racial discrimination in the use of these technologies with boilerplate language. The disclosures illuminate the use of technologies by the NYPD that enable mass surveillance and have extensive documented risks of bias and inaccuracy. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance, and through the Public Voice coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge Biden Administration to Halt Use of Facial Recognition + (Feb. 17, 2021)
    In a coalition letter, EPIC and over 40 other privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights groups called on the Biden administration to 1) place a moratorium on federal use of facial recognition and other biometric technologies, 2) stop state and local governments from purchasing facial recognition services with federal funds, and 3) support the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Act. The coalition letter highlights the threat of facial recognition to create a panopticon of surveillance, the particular harms to people of color, women, and youth from mis-identification by facial recognition, and widespread adoption of facial recognition without public input. Last year, EPIC and a coalition of privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights groups urged Congress to pass Senator Markey's Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Act bill. In 2019, EPIC launched a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice coalition gathered the support of over 100 organizations and many leading experts across 30 plus countries.
  • European Parliament Guidelines Call for Moratorium on Facial Recognition + (Jan. 22, 2021)
    In a report released on January 20, the European Parliament outlines the need for new legal frameworks for artificial intelligence and biometric surveillance. The report raises objections to both civilian and military uses of artificial intelligence, mass surveillance, and deepfakes. The European Parliament was particularly concerned with facial recognition technology, proposing a moratorium on its use in public and semi-public spaces. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance through the Public Voice coalition.
  • More top news

  • FAA Announces Final Rule for Remote Drone ID + (Jan. 6, 2021)
    The Federal Aviation Administration posted the agency's final rule for remote drone identification. The final rule will require all drones to broadcast drone ID information in real-time, eliminating the option in the proposed rule to forgo real-time broadcast and only submit drone ID information for retention by a third party. EPIC previously commented on the FAA's proposed rule, urging the FAA to require all drones to provide real-time public access to drone ID information. In 2015, EPIC argued that drones should be required to broadcast relevant information to the public while in operation.
  • New York Enacts Law Suspending Use of Facial Recognition in Schools + (Dec. 23, 2020)
    A bill signed into law yesterday suspends the use of facial recognition and other biometric technology by New York State schools. The ban will last for two years or until a study by the State Education Department is complete and finds that facial recognition technology is appropriate for use in schools, whichever takes longer. EPIC leads a campaign to ban face surveillance through the Public Voice coalition. EPIC recently filed a DC Consumer Protection Complaint alleging that online test proctoring companies have violated students' privacy and engaged in unfair and deceptive practices.
  • Massachusetts Poised to Ban State Use of Biometric Surveillance + (Dec. 1, 2020)
    An omnibus police reform bill banning public agencies or officials from using facial recognition technology is set to pass the Massachusetts legislature in the coming week. The bill contains an exception for law enforcement to perform facial recognition searches against the state driver's license database, but requires the state to publish statistics on how often officers request access to the database. EPIC's Policy Director Caitriona Fitzgerald testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary to urge that a moratorium on facial recognition be included in a previous version of the bill. Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
  • LAPD Bans Use of Clearview AI Facial Recognition + (Nov. 19, 2020)
    The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) issued a moratorium on the use of third-party commercial facial recognition systems including Clearview AI. However, the LAPD will continue to use a Los Angeles County system which searches booking images. LAPD officers have used Clearview AI at least 475 times since 2019. Clearview AI is a particularly dangerous facial recognition system because it queries a database of over 3 billion images scraped from social media sites, compromising the privacy of more individuals than smaller-scale systems. EPIC recently filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking information on Immigrations and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) use of Clearview AI. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance.
  • EPIC Seeks Documents on Facial Recognition System Used to Identify D.C. Protester + (Nov. 13, 2020)
    EPIC filed a series of open government requests seeking information on a previously undisclosed facial recognition system used by police departments in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. EPIC sent requests to Metropolitan Police Department, Maryland National Capitol Park Police, and Montgomery County Police Department. The system was first revealed by the Washington Post on November 2, 2020. A protester accused of assaulting a police officer during a June 1 protest at D.C.'s Lafayette square was identified when police ran an image of him from Twitter against the National Capitol Region Facial Recognition Investigative Leads System (NCR-FRILS). EPIC recently filed suit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement to obtain documents about the agency's use of facial recognition. Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
  • #ReclaimYourFace: European Civil Society Groups Oppose Biometric Surveillance + (Nov. 13, 2020)
    A coalition of twelve European civil society groups launched a new campaign this month calling for a ban on "biometric mass surveillance". To date the campaign has gathered over 5,000 signatures. EPIC has launched a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice coalition gathered the support of over 100 organizations and many leading experts across 30 plus countries. In October, EPIC urged the Department of Homeland Security to rescind a proposed rule allowing broad biometric data collection and suspend the Department's use of facial recognition.
  • Portland, Maine Votes to Add Teeth to Ban on Facial Recognition + (Nov. 4, 2020)
    Voters in Portland, Maine passed a ballot initiative that strengthens the city's ban on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement and city agencies. The City Council previously passed an order banning face surveillance, but the initiative strengthens the ban with a private right of action and penalties for violations of the law. A growing list of cities have banned facial recognition technology, including Boston, Oakland, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon. EPIC has launched a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice coalition gathered the support of over 100 organizations and many leading experts across 30 plus countries. Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
  • EPIC Urges DHS Advisory Committee to Investigate Fusion Centers + (Oct. 27, 2020)
    EPIC Law Fellow, Jake Wiener, spoke at the Department of Homeland Security's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee's public meeting today and urged the Committee to investigate rampant privacy and civil liberties violations by fusion centers. Fusion centers are centralized systems that pool and analyze intelligence from federal, state, local, and private sector entities. Addressing the Committee's new tasking, Mr. Wiener directed the Committee's attention to recent reports of protest monitoring and ineffective privacy oversight. He urged the Committee to recommend a ban on the use of facial recognition technology at fusion centers and to consider whether funding of fusion centers is justified in light of the privacy and civil liberties harms the centers create. EPIC previously urged the Advisory Committee to recommend that Customs and Border Protection halt the use of facial recognition.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge University of Miami to Ban Face Surveillance + (Oct. 27, 2020)
    EPIC joined over 20 consumer, privacy, civil liberties, and student organizations to call on the University of Miami to ban the use of facial recognition technology. The coalition letter comes after reports the University used facial recognition to identify student protesters. The coalition argued that "facial recognition technology is invasive and ineffective." EPIC has launched a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice coalition gathered the support of over 100 organizations and many leading experts across 30 plus countries. Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
  • Federal Government Advises on Federal Laws Potentially Violated When Intercepting Drones + (Aug. 19, 2020)
    The FAA, DOJ, FCC, and DHS jointly issued the "Advisory on the Application of Federal Laws to the Acquisition and Use of Technology to Detect and Mitigate Unmanned Aircraft Systems." The advisory covers the applicable federal laws that non-federal or private entities might violate if they sought to detect or mitigate drone threats, including the Wiretap Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Congress previously granted the DOJ and DHS broad authority to detect and mitigate drone "threats" in the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018 that was incorporated into the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 required a report on drone surveillance risks but did not establish any baseline privacy safeguards. EPIC has repeatedly urged both Congress and the FAA to take decisive action to limit the use of drones for surveillance and to establish a national database detailing drone surveillance capabilities.

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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