Fla. ACLU study asks how big is your local Big Brother?

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Photo Credit: Mystic Politics

How big is your local Big Brother?

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is part of a national study by the organization trying to determine exactly what is in local police agencies’ surveillance and weapons arsenals — and what rules govern their use.

“We simply don’t know what they have and how they’re using it,” Maria Kayanan, associate legal director for the ACLU of Florida, said Friday.

“The law clearly hasn’t caught up with technology,” Kayanan said.

The state’s branch is one of 23 nationwide taking part in the study.

In addition to weaponry and the use of SWAT teams, the ACLU is seeking information about forms of military surveillance civilian law enforcement agencies have and how they’re used, such as mobile phone and GPS monitoring devices and biometric identification technology.

In late April, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law prohibiting law enforcement from using drones in aerial surveillance without a warrant, making Florida the first state in the country to do so.

Sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, the law includes exceptions for emergencies, such as acts of terrorism or missing persons cases.

The law, which the ACLU supported, was an area where conservatives and the ACLU – often at odds — could find common ground, Kayanan said.

“Everyone can agree that privacy and personal autonomy is a good thing. And we all want to keep the government out of our backyard,” she said.

In Florida, the ACLU’s requests were directed to the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Jacksonville, Bay County and Holmes County sheriff’s offices.

The agencies were chosen to get a sampling of the state in general, while fitting into the non-profit ACLU’s budget.

The ACLU project, begun in early March, is still in its early stages, Kayanan said.

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