The Los Angeles Police Department released over 9,000 images of its officers to critical police observers after a lawsuit. Undercover officers were among them, it is now said in a lawsuit.
The city of Los Angeles is seeking a court order to force journalist Ben Camacho to return a USB flash drive containing photos of a total of 9310 Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers and remove them from the internet. A similar lawsuit was sent last week to the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, a police-critical group dedicated to “counter-surveillance”. The activists run the website “Watch the Watchers” and have posted the officers’ photos there. If you enter the name in a search box, the photo and information on rank, ethnicity and email addresses appear.
Camacho and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition are in “unlawful possession” of the photos, the city writes. However, the journalist had obtained the dataset using the Public Records Act. Although the police initially did not want to hand over the pictures, they had to submit to a settlement after a lawsuit.
Camacho’s lawyers had argued that the police themselves publish portraits of their officers on their website. All personal data posted online on “Watch the Watchers” could be found on police websites, they said. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition also considers itself to be in the right, as no private addresses of police officers are published.
Unlike in Germany, the publication of portrait photos by private individuals is not considered a violation of privacy in the USA. Camacho also invokes the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and of the press.
Behind the action against Camacho and the police observers is a police union, which in turn has filed an own lawsuit against the city and the LAPD over the publications. The plaintiffs complain that among the officers whose pictures were published are also those who carry out covert surveillance measures – with or without uniforms. In fact, when Camacho was given the pictures, the city had, by its own admission, weeded out any that showed undercover officers. According to their lawyer, this is said to have affected fewer than 100 officers.
The police union, on the other hand, argues that the data set handed over could also contain photos of officers who had been undercover in the past and could thus be exposed. Allegedly, 321 LAPD officers also want to file a separate class action lawsuit for damages against the city for negligence.
In the lawsuit against Camacho, the city of Los Angeles demands that the journalist not only return the data but also delete all copies. This is practically impossible, because the website “Watch the Watchers” is mirrored several times on the internet, including in the online library Archive.org and with the help of BitTorrent. The censorship-resistant file-sharing software is based on a decentralised principle, so that the traces of the images can hardly be followed or even deleted.
Camacho is known as a journalist and filmmaker critical of the police and has already uncovered several police scandals. His work is based, among other things, on portrait photos obtained from previous applications under the Public Records Act.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: Los Angeles police post portraits of their officers on Facebook themselves (LAPD Headquarters/ Facebook).