New York Daily News: Millions of NYC jail call recordings stored in high-tech system, violating civil liberties: suit

"New York City has built a massive unconstitutional database of recorded phone conversations between jailed suspects and people on the outside — with the ability to track and sort them by the sound of the speaker’s voice and words used, a new lawsuit alleges.

From Jan. 1, 2020, through Jan. 1, 2022, the database contained just under 18 million recorded calls, based on a disclosure by the Correction Department to the three nonprofits that filed the lawsuit Monday. The suit challenges the practice on federal and state constitutional grounds. The sheer number of recorded calls was not previously known.

The groups filing suit in Bronx Supreme Court — the Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services and New York County Defender Services — advocate for the rights of the accused in addition to providing free legal representation to criminal suspects who cannot afford lawyers.

While law enforcement agencies tout recording of jail calls as key to public safety both behind bars and outside, investigators actually listened to only 1.7% of the recordings, amounting to 305,000 calls, the city disclosure states.

For anyone who has spoken by phone to someone locked up in city jails, a recording of the conversation likely sits on a computer server in a largely unregulated setting overseen by the Correction Department and Securus Technologies, the lawsuit claims. Securus is not a defendant in the suit.

'The system is set up to grab literally every piece of information it can from these conversations,” said Elizabeth Vasquez, a lawyer with Brooklyn Defender Services. 'We end up with a searchable database that has incredibly intimate information from largely Black and Brown people. It’s incredibly concerning.'

The lawsuit cites free speech and freedom of association provisions in the Constitution in demanding a return to a policy that required law enforcement to get a warrant before jail phone calls can be monitored. The lawsuit also seeks termination of the Securus phone contract and appointment of a monitor to oversee the system."

Read the full article in the Daily News here.

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