Surveillance Technology Oversight Project
Stories of Impact
From the way we communicate to the way we fight diseases, technological developments over the past century have made our lives easier, faster, and more convenient. But as these advancements keep pushing the envelope of what’s possible, technology’s dark underbelly has grown too.
“As a longtime activist, civil rights lawyer, and technologist, I saw the historic threat that state and local surveillance was posing to New Yorkers and the nation,” explained Albert Fox Cahn, the founder of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.). What began as an operation in the living room of Cahn’s Fort Greene apartment in 2019 is now a nonprofit advocacy organization and legal services provider that puts civilians’ rights – especially those who are vulnerable to discrimination – first.
Through a combination of litigation, legislation, research, organizing, coalition building, and public education , S.T.O.P. is focused on combating the growing abuse of surveillance and governmental technology on everyday lives. “We see surveillance technology in particular, and novel technologies more generally, as a force multiplier for injustice and as something that fuels discrimination,” Cahn said.
S.T.O.P. has tackled a wide range of issues that affect the most marginalized New Yorkers: facial recognition technology deployed against BIPOC individuals, new forms of tracking meant to threaten access to abortion and gender affirming care, surveillance tools that target and punish those who are neurodivergent, and more.
Brooklyn Org has helped fuel our growth to become one of the leading voices against the adoption of biased invasive and unconstitutional technology, not just across the borough, and not just across the city, but across the world.Albert Fox Cahn, Founder
S.T.O.P. brought first-of-its-type lawsuits that bring big institutions like the NYPD and its vendors accountable for their privacy violations. The nonprofit also won class certification in a landmark case against Thomson Reuters for selling “nearly every single Americans information to law enforcement” including ICE – a move that Cahn highlights is particularly dangerous for undocumented New Yorkers and enables family separation.
“Long before facial recognition was front page news in the New York Times, it was something that BKO believed in us fighting,” Cahn said. “Brooklyn Org has helped fuel our growth to become one of the leading voices against the adoption of biased invasive and unconstitutional technology, not just across the borough, and not just across the city, but across the world.”
While S.T.O.P’s reach is now global – with partners in more than half a dozen countries and bylines in widely-circulated reports – Cahn emphasized that New Yorkers are still at the center of the organization’s work. “S.T.O.P. will keep fighting to actually give elected officials and New Yorkers the real data about how these technologies work and we’ll keep fighting for the abolition of New York surveillance state,” Cahn stated.
Even as S.T.O.P.’s momentum grows, Cahn remains realistic about the challenges the organization will face, especially as more people in power “continue to turn to carceral surveillance solutions to public safety.” And yet, in striving to expand its staff, resources, and capabilities, Cahn sees a different in sight: “I really think our city is poised to provide a counter model to reverse the harm we’ve done by investing in so many of these gimmicks and instead, to really begin to put evidence over ideology.”