A draft report from the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice reveals the Trump administration’s plan to further expand the national police state, with an emphasis on supporting and expanding qualified immunity and facial recognition.
The president formed the commission via executive order in January. A federal judge recently blocked the release of the commission’s report due to a lack of diversity on the panel and evidence that it operated in secrecy in violation of public meeting laws.
The court order stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP LDF). The suit claimed the commission failed to provide proper notice of public hearing and that it gave too much influence to law enforcement interests in violation of laws dictating how federal advisory committees must operate.
According to a Reuters report, “The panel’s 18 commissioners include federal, state and local law enforcement representatives, but no civil rights advocates, defense attorneys or big-city police officials.”
Through an open records request, Reuters obtained a draft of the commission’s report, revealing a plan to further empower law enforcement in the United States. A New York Times op-ed declared, “The president’s commission was considering recommendations that could transform this nation into a dystopian police state.”
The report recommends increasing “due process” protections for police offers facing charges of misconduct, and called on the Justice Department to regularly affirm support for qualified immunity.
Federal courts created the qualified immunity legal defense and applied it across the U.S. through in incorporation doctrine. In practice, the federal courts have cemented a system in place that gives law enforcement officers almost complete immunity and allows them to violate any individual’s rights with virtual impunity. The problem isn’t a lack of due process for cops; it is a system that gives them almost unlimited protections. The commission’s recommendations not only affirms the system but would give even more power to police.
For instance, according to Reuters, “proposals included allowing officers accused of wrongdoing to view body camera footage before speaking to internal investigators.”
The report also calls for increased federal funding for facial recognition technologies even as many states are working to limit or ban their use.
The federal government has been developing a massive, nationwide facial recognition system for years. The FBI rolled out a nationwide facial-recognition program in the fall of 2014, with the goal of building a giant biometric database with pictures provided by the states and corporate friends.
In 2016, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law released “The Perpetual Lineup,” a massive report on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology in the U.S. You can read the complete report at perpetuallineup.org. The organization conducted a year-long investigation and collected more than 15,000 pages of documents through more than 100 public records requests. The report paints a disturbing picture of intense cooperation between the federal government, and state and local law enforcement to develop a massive facial recognition database.
“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight. But those controls, by and large, don’t exist today,” report co-author Clare Garvie said. “With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”
There are many technical and legal problems with facial recognition, including significant concerns about the accuracy of the technology, particularly when reading the facial features of minority populations. During a test run by the ACLU of Northern California, facial recognition misidentified 26 members of the California legislature as people in a database of arrest photos.
With facial recognition technology, police and other government officials have the capability to track individuals in real-time. These systems allow law enforcement agents to use video cameras and continually scan everybody who walks by. According to the report, several major police departments have expressed an interest in this type of real-time tracking. Documents revealed agencies in at least five major cities, including Los Angeles, either claimed to run real-time face recognition off of street cameras, bought technology with the capability, or expressed written interest in buying it.
The federal government heavily involves itself in helping state and local agencies obtain this technology. The commission report recommends ramping it up even further.
The commission also wants to strip away privacy protections and make it easier for cops to access encrypted information on your phone.
Not only does the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice propose policies that will expand the ever-growing national police-state, but it also represents a further expansion of unconstitutional federal power. The federal government has no constitutional role in state and local policing. Police powers were among the powers supporters of the Constitution specifically said would remain with state governments.
The federal government has monopolized education, healthcare, environmental regulation, the economy, and more. Now it’s in the process of monopolizing law enforcement. Given the fed’s track record on everything else it controls, we should be wary of this movement to nationalize policing. It won’t end well.