The NYPD has used tens of thousands of questionable subpoenas over the last decade to intimidate private companies into handing over the personal information of cops and civilians alike — all with no oversight from the city or the courts, The Post has found.
While the vast majority of subpoenas in New York State — and across the country — require the signature of a judge or the blessing of a grand jury, the New York City Council empowered the department nearly a century ago to issue such commands to force unwilling cops to produce internal records or appear at disciplinary hearings.
But the NYPD has quietly used them outside the department to intimidate phone companies, banks, Internet service providers and social media giants into handing over the personal information of those it’s investigating, including private citizens and journalists — even when cases are not criminal in nature.
“Right now, there is zero oversight involving the issuance of these subpoenas, and if something is not done to curtail the NYPD’s unlawful use of them, there is nothing stopping the police from going after their critics,” said Jack Jaskaran, a former NYPD captain turned attorney.
It’s unclear the subpoenas have any legal power outside the department, and the NYPD would not say whether and how it retains the personal data.
But at least two major national phone carriers have a blanket policy of complying with the requests — which use trumped-up language to imply legal retribution if they are not followed, according to a phone company source and attorneys.
“‘Why would the police be asking for something if it is not criminal?’ is the thinking,” attorney Ron Kuby said. ”You have this extra-legal understanding that the NYPD gets whatever they asked for and the [cell phone] customer has no idea,” he continued.
Four subpoenas obtained by The Post cite the federal anti-terror Patriot Act and threaten that “Failure to comply with this Subpoena Duces Tecum will result in the institution and prosecution of proceeding or action as authorized by law.”
It was unclear what proceedings or actions, if any, were authorized.
But the NYPD has used the subpoena power 217,872 times since 2010 without any oversight from the courts, according to documents Jaskaran obtained via New York’s Freedom of Information Law and shared with the Post.
The NYPD would not provide details on the subpoenas or a breakdown of who they were issued to.
Department spokesman Al Baker said cops use “these administrative subpoenas as important tools, early in investigations, and they often help determine whether to move forward in the courts.”
“The sheer number of subpoenas has increased due to the fact of the increased use of cell phones, video, and computers in the course of criminal actions,” Baker added.
Lawyers have questioned whether it is proper for the police to use these administrative subpoenas in criminal cases without any check from the judiciary.
While most of the subpoenas are believed to target cops, some have also gone after journalists in an attempt to uncover their sources — and the four orders obtained by The Post reveal they can be sweeping in nature, potentially creating a trove of personal data on cops and those in their orbit.
Those documents show the Internal Affairs Bureau using subpoenas to get officers’ user data from Google, Microsoft and Facebook.
In one case, they issued a subpoena to get a cop’s timecard from his off-duty job at American Airlines.
The existence of the internal administrative warrants was first revealed in January when the NYPD attempted to obtain the New York Post reporter’s Twitter data.
All of the subpoenas obtained by The Post cited the federal Patriot Act anti-terror law — which broadened the government’s ability to surveil the public following the 9/11 terror attacks.
A police spokesman said the department dropped the Patriot Act language after a Post story revealed the department used it to target Post Police Bureau Chief Tina Moore. The subpoena was eventually withdrawn after lawyers got involved.
But the department did manage to get its hands on a freelance journalist’s phone records without his knowledge, as part of an internal probe into the leaked Cuba Gooding Jr. mugshot last year, documents show.
In the months following news of the department subpoenaing a reporter’s records, police sources described the process as an open secret in the department.
“They use administrative subpoenas and they abuse the hell out of it because at the end of the day, who is going to pay the price,” said one person with knowledge of the NYPD’s Legal Bureau issuing process.
“Whatever they want, they’ll get it,” the source added.
Another source said cops just expect that investigators will have all their phone records when they show up at misconduct hearings.
Internal Affairs even wielded the subpoena power in a probe of ex-sergeant Valentin Khazin’s allegedly unapproved moonlighting at LaGuardia Airport.
Khazin’s claims in a harassment lawsuit brought against NYPD that he was targeted by a superior for failing to discriminate against an African American colleague.
Documents attached to his case show that Internal Affairs sought his “subscriber, profile, contact, billing and payment information” for his Google Voice, Drive and Wallet account — as well as all internet protocol address data and electronic devices associated with his Gmail accounts in connection with the moonlighting probe.
And when he showed up at his disciplinary hearing on Oct. 19, 2016, he said he discovered that Internal Affairs had obtained his timecards from American Airlines — and phone records, too.
His side job had already alerted him to the subpoena.
“I felt like I had no constitutional rights,” he said. “They said they were investigating me for a criminal matter when, in fact, it was an administrative case, not criminal.”
“No judge would ever sign off on any of this stuff.”
Khazin was disciplined for working an unapproved off-duty job but claims that “paperwork had [fallen] through the cracks” as retaliation from his supervisor. He quit in 2018 and is now a cop in Plainfield, IN.
His lawyers say they still don’t know what the NYPD obtained through subpoenas about him.
For its part, Google said in a statement to Khazin that it “received legal process issued by the NYPD compelling the release of information related to your Google Voice account.”
Khazin’s attorney, John Scola, warned the power is a slippery slope.
“The true extent of the NYPD’s unfettered abuse of power is yet to be known but is likely more far-reaching than could be imagined,” he said.
The Post could only track down two criminal cases where an administrative subpoena were used. The Appeal reported on four similar criminal cases in August.
Additional reporting by Nolan Hicks