Asset forfeiture funds help build the ever-growing national surveillance state.
Civil asset forfeiture is a pernicious policy in its own right. It is nothing more than legalized, institutionalized, government-sanctioned theft. Forfeiture laws flip due process on its head and create perverse “policing for profit” incentives.
On top of that, we have long suspected that police departments use forfeiture money to secretly purchase surveillance technology. Recent Chicago Police Department emails obtained from a trove of hacked documents prove this happens, revealing that cops used asset forfeiture money to buy drones off the books with no oversight or accountability.
According to reporting by the Chicago Sun-Times, details of the CPD drone program were revealed in an email sent by the director of police research and development. In the email exchange, Karen Conway told other high-ranking police officials that the department’s counterterrorism bureau “utilized 1505 funds for a pilot Drone program that operates within the parameters of current laws.”
Conway wrote that drones “have been purchased and the Electronic & Technical Support Unit (Counter-terrorism) is in the process of creating a training to start a pilot. Some of the Drone uses will be for missing persons, crime scene photos, and terrorist-related issues.”
The city refused to answer specific questions about the drone program, saying the city would not answer questions relating to hacked emails.
The 1505 fund is made of asset forfeiture proceeds, along with other assets seized in connection to criminal investigations. According to the Sun-Times, the fund is “off the books” and isn’t included in the department’s budget. In addition to funding the purchase of drones, 1505 money was reportedly used to purchase cell-site simulators, commonly known as “stingrays.” These devices essentially spoof cell phone towers, tricking any device within range into connecting to the stingray instead of the tower, allowing law enforcement to sweep up communications content, as well as locate and track the person in possession of a specific phone or other electronic device.