Tech Basics


Each technology may be described a number of ways, so you will want to try a variety of combinations (along with the previous combinations for jurisdiction). 

For deeper dives on these surveillance technologies visit EFF's Street-Level Surveillance project. 

Pro tip: search for technologies on It's a repository full of public documents requested by other researchers. 

Body-worn cameras

Body-worn cameras (BWC) are small devices affixed to an officer’s uniform that capture video and audio of the officer’s encounters with the public. Often billed as a measure to enhance police accountability, BWCs also function as a mobile surveillance network.

Search terms include: body worn camera, BWC, body camera, body cam, lapel camera

A few other places to look: 

Bureau of Justice Assistance - Body-worn Camera resources by state

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - Body-worn Camera Policy Map


Drones are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles. The most common small drones are “quadrotors,” which use four rotors to propel the device. Police remotely control these devices to surveil crowds from above or locations that would otherwise be difficult or dangerous to observe by a human on the ground. 

Search terms include: drone, unmanned aerial system, unmanned aerial vehicle, UAV, UAS

Another place to look: 

Bard College's Center for the Study of the Drone - Public Safety Drone Map

Automated License Plate Readers

Automated license plate readers (ALPRs) are networks of cameras used to track the movements of vehicles. Police attach cameras to patrol cars or fixed locations, like highway overpasses, to amass a searchable database that can reveal a driver’s movement. Police may also add license plates to a “hot list” to get real-time alerts whenever the vehicle is photographed by an ALPR.

Search terms include: license plate readers, license plate readers, license plate recognition, ALPR, LPR

Another place to look: 

Electronic Frontier Foundation - Automated License Plate Reader Data

Electronic Frontier Foundation - California Automated License Plate Reader Policies

Gunshot Detection

Gunshot Detection relies on a number of acoustic sensors mounted on street lights or on the sides of buildings. When a loud noise triggers the sensors, they send the audio clips to analysts for confirmation. The analysts then alert police to the approximate location of gunfire. After being activated by a loud noise, these sensors may also record human voices that occur nearby. "

Search terms include: Shotspotter, shotspotter, gunshot detection, gunshot location

Cell-Site Simulators

Cell-site simulators, also known as Stingrays or IMSI catchers, are devices that masquerade as legitimate cell-phone towers, tricking phones within a certain radius into connecting to the device rather than a tower.

Search terms include: cell-site simulator, IMSI catcher, Stingray

Face recognition

Face recognition is a method of identifying or verifying the identity of an individual using their face. Face recognition systems can be used to identify people in photos, video, or in real-time. Law enforcement may also use mobile devices to identify people during police stops.

Search terms include: face recognition, facial recognition, biometrics

Other places to look: 

Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology - The Perpetual Lineup

Fight for the Future - Ban Facial Recognition Map

Predictive Policing

Predictive policing uses software to analyze data collected by police and make recommendations on where police resources should be prioritized. For example, some software may look at the pattern of crimes in a particular neighborhood and direct police to send patrols to that neighborhood at a certain time. Other software may identify which individuals are most likely to be involved in crimes and direct police to examine them more carefully. 

Search terms include: you will primarily want to try predictive policing and the name of the vendor. However sometimes you will see the terms crime data analysis or artificial intelligence used. 

Real-time Crime Centers

Real-time crime centers (RTCC) are generally command centers staffed by officers and analysts to monitor a variety of surveillance technologies and data sources to monitor communities. RTCC often provide a central location for analyzing ALPR feeds, social media, and camera networks, and ofter analysts the ability to use predictive algorithms. 

Search terms may include: real-time crime center, real-time crime analytical center, domain awareness center


Vendor Searches

Sometimes, you may have an idea of what company is selling the technology. You can use this company as a search term. 

For example, Vigilant Solutions is one of the main vendors of automated license plate reader technology. There may be times when useful documents exist that contain the term “Vigilant Solutions” but do not use any terms directly related to ALPR.