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Legislation would prohibit recording of phone calls at Rikers Island

Council Member Gale Brewer says the New York City Department of Correction, along with a vendor, run a mass surveillance operation that captures and catalogs the biometric, location and other personal data of people on both sides of a call. 

Ashley Mastronardi

Jun 5, 2024, 10:57 PM

Updated 13 days ago

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A group of lawmakers is introducing legislation that would make it illegal for phone calls to be recorded at Rikers Island.  
Council Member Gale Brewer says the New York City Department of Correction, along with a vendor, run a mass surveillance operation that captures and catalogs the biometric, location and other personal data of people on both sides of a call.  Elizabeth Daniel Vasquez works for Brooklyn Defender Services, which is part of a class-action lawsuit against the DOC to end this type of surveillance:    “When in 2008, when the city switched from a system where you had to have a warrant in order to record phone calls in our city’s jails to one where universal recording was the norm ...  no one imagined this kind of extensive and expansive community spying project.  No one understood the details of what this program was going to become, and it’s certainly not what was intended,” she told News 12 New York. 
Brewer is joining other lawmakers including Council Member Yusef Salaam to ask the DOC to:
  • Prohibit recording  
  • Ban the collection of biometric and location data  
  • Force the destruction of data that’s already been collected 
 The DOC told News 12 in part in a statement: 
“Monitoring of phone calls is essential for the safety of all staff and every person in custody. This lawful practice is used throughout New York State, prevents contraband... from entering facilities, and is part of the department’s robust efforts to prevent violence inside of city jails and far beyond the walls of Rikers Island.” 
The DOC also says that incarcerated people are notified that their calls are being recorded and that recordings are usually deleted after 18 months.  The bill was supposed to be introduced on Thursday but will be delayed until June 20. 


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