Does Your Local Government Have a ‘Black Budget’ Too?
As we learn more about the US intelligence community’s top secret, multi-billion dollar “Black budget” and how the NSA pays technology companies to comply with the Prism spying program, another mostly unnoticed pipeline moves billions of federal surveillance dollars from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to local governments for dragnet surveillance systems that include video camera networks, automated license plate readers, facial recognition, and even drones and tanks.
As the scope of federal surveillance becomes clearer, all of us should take a hard look at federal surveillance grants to local communities, consider how they distort local democracy, and demand more civil liberties safeguards, oversight, and accountability. Federal grants to local and state governments for the purchase of new surveillance technology have risen dramatically over the last decade, all with little to no local oversight. Federal dollars—as much as $300 million from DHS just last year—find their way to local governments via opaque grant programs.
Any debate over local purse strings slips into the background as the primary question for local governments becomes “Why wouldn’t we take this cash?”
Like the federal intelligence community’s black budget, which allows our federal government to allocate billions of taxpayer dollars for spying, all without public debate, these federal grants to local communities also distort the democratic process and prevent a meaningful discussion of the relative costs and benefits of surveillance technology.
This cannot continue. Increased transparency about surveillance programs needs to be built in from the start and it should begin with robust public discussion well before applications are made for federal funds.
Via Zen Haven