Washington Cops Are Taking a Cue From ‘Fight Club’ for a Secret Facial Recognition Group
Over the last decade, large police forces in Washington state like the Seattle Police Department and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department have turned to facial recognition technology to identify and track down suspects. But it was, until now, unclear just how widespread the use of the technology was across the state, and whether smaller law enforcement departments had access to those same tools.
Now, thanks to thousands of pages of previously undisclosed emails, OneZero can confirm the existence of a massive, secretive network of police departments working together to share these controversial facial recognition tools. The emails, which date back to at least 2016, also indicate that these departments explicitly tried to keep this cross-department partnership secret from the public. These emails were shared with OneZero from a source who obtained the documents through an open records request.
Many of these cross-department requests in Washington state were made through a previously undisclosed email listserv known as FITlist. FITlist — with FIT standing for “Fraud and Identity Theft” — includes officers from at least a dozen police departments, from large organizations like the Seattle police and Pierce County Sheriff’s Department to smaller ones like the Richland and Marysville police. Officers on the listserv are encouraged to adopt a Fight Club-style directive that precludes group members from discussing the existence of the list publicly. One document explicitly says: “Do not mention FITlist in your reports or search warrant affidavits.”
“In the context of face surveillance, a lot of access actually happens ad hoc, instead of through a written agreement or policy.”
Shankar Narayan, Director of the Technology and Liberty Project for ACLU of Washington, says that the use of a listserv to make backroom requests “with no opportunity for the public to know and to understand” what information is being shared is concerning. Narayan adds that secret partnerships like these could also be used to circumvent jurisdictions that have banned facial…