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Legislative Memo: Prohibits the Recording of Certain Identifying Information of a Person Subjected to Temporary Questioning

Many New Yorkers would be shocked to discover that the New York Police Department maintains a massive database containing personal information – name, address, social security number – of hundreds of thousands of innocent, law-abiding residents.

The database, which contains information collected during routine police stops, is a gross invasion of personal privacy and due process rights. This legislation would end this practice by prohibiting the NYPD from entering into a database the personal information of innocent individuals who are stopped, questioned, and/or frisked and released without further legal action.

The NYCLU strongly supports this bill.

In 2009, New York City police officers stopped over 575,000 individuals, a record high, bringing the six-year total (2004-2009) to roughly 3 million. Almost 90 percent of the total number of people stopped were black or Latino.

Further, roughly 90 percent of those stopped were completely innocent of any wrongdoing: they were stopped, questioned, and/or frisked and then released without any further legal action.

These numbers are staggering. But to add insult to injury, the NYPD also enters into an electronic database the personal information of everyone it stops. The database is, essentially, a massive compilation of innocent black and Latino New Yorkers’ personal information.

There is no rational justification for permitting any police department to retain this information. In defending the clear racial bias that is evident in the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk statistics, the NYPD insists that there is a direct correlation between the skin color of those stopped and those who commit crimes. This logic is erroneous.

As Columbia University law professor Jeffrey A. Fagan points out: a crime suspect’s race is only known 29% of the time. In over 70% of crimes, the NYPD does not know the race of a suspect. To compare the racial breakdown of those stopped and frisked with the racial breakdown of the 29% of crime suspects whose race is known is misguided.

The NYPD has also claimed that storing the personal information of innocent people may be useful in future investigations. A hypothetical example offered by the NYPD is that a person under investigation might claim to be “at a certain place, at a certain time.”

The stop-and-frisk database could be useful in this scenario, according to the NYPD, to help determine if the suspect was or was not at that place. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert correctly observed that this logic “would suggest that the innocent people stopped are nevertheless permanently under suspicion, which is, of course, the case.”

The editorial board of the Chief-Leader, a New York City weekly newspapers that covers municipal affairs and civil service issues, agrees with Herbert.

A recent editorial in that paper stated: “There is [] no justification that we can see to keeping in the database those who are stopped and ultimately let go without any action taken.” It concluded that this bill is a “sensible correction for an area in which the NYPD has gone too far.”

The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk database compromises the privacy rights of those innocent New Yorkers whose information is stored, placing them under permanent police suspicion, and it exposes them to further police misconduct, such as unwarranted surveillance and racial profiling.

For an innocent person to be stopped, questioned, and/or frisked by a police officer is humiliating enough; there is no justification for subjecting them to the further injustice of having their personal information stored in a permanent police database.

The NYCLU urges the legislature to pass A.1117-A/S.7945-A.

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Civil Liberties Union